Art on the move, and on the barn

SPIRITUALLY MOVING: A COLLECTION OF AMERICAN FOLK ART SCULPTURE

By Tom Geismar

and Harvey Kahn

Abrams, 160 pp., $125

Its streaming mane and tail say it all - this horse flies like the wind. No wonder "horse" was a favorite motif for weather vanes, notably in America. These equine indicators of shifting air currents were, at their best, absolutely sculpture. They not only had superbly observed contours (more than serving the need for weather vanes to have spare, strong silhouettes), but their internal relief modeling can be knowing and subtle.

Not everything that outgrows its usefulness becomes art. Some outdated objects become museum pieces with no obvious aesthetic qualities, preserved to illumine history, for rarity or age. Those we call "art" may well have been more than functional at the outset. And we often appreciate them as art in proportion to our disregard for their original, mundane purpose. Part of their art status, however, may come from their functional past. Surface erosion, patina, and old repainting and repair all contribute. The enhancing effects on a weather vane of rain, snow, and gale are particularly apt. A weather vane should be weathered.

Such points are illustrated with exquisite emphasis in "Spiritually Moving," a book of unusually large scale (12 by 17 in.). From this striking volume comes "Dexter," a portrait of a famous 19th-century trotter.

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