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15
Aug-2014

Craftsman creates cupolas and weathervanes

This natural copper weathervane was built to resemble Moby Dick from the 1851 novel “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas Inc. is a place where pigs fly.

Bill and Ellen McElvain own the seasonal shop, located on Route 3 about 15 minutes from Ellsworth. Specializing in weathervanes and cupolas, the store holds about 100 different designs for customers to choose from.

Bill, who hails originally from Greenville, Ky., came to Maine in 1958 when he served for four years in the U.S. Air Force. After living in the Pine Tree State, he decided to make it his permanent home. His wife, Ellen, comes from Bucksport.

Bill has been crafting weathervanes for more than 40 years — since 1971, to be exact. Weathervanes, which are rotating instruments, typically are mounted on rooftops or cupolas (decorative structures placed on top of a building) to tell the direction of the wind.

Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas owners Bill and Ellen McElvain pose for a photo inside their Trenton shop. The couple have been married for 20 years.  PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas owners Bill and Ellen McElvain pose for a photo inside their Trenton shop. The couple have been married for 20 years.
PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

“Back in the old days,” Bill says, cupolas were used to help ventilate barns. “Now they are more decorative.”

His foray into weathervane-making was simple enough — to meet his own needs.

“I had [Morgan horses] and a barn and I wanted a weathervane,” he said. “I shopped around for weathervanes and there were none available, just the old antiques, and they cost a lot. So I said, ‘I’ll make my own’ and I went and bought some copper and started hammering.”

To this day, the coppersmith has hung on to his first piece that graces the windowsill of the couple’s winter residence in Levant.

“I had friends who also had horses and they said if you don’t like that one we’ll buy it from you,” Bill recalled. “I said, ‘OK, I think I’m on to something here’ and then I kept making one after another.”

A horse weathervane at Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas in Trenton. PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

A horse weathervane at Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas in Trenton.
PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

His first 10 to 15 weathervanes were of horses. It grew from there.

“He was just making them and it turned into a business,” Ellen said.

Entering the white, gingerbread-style building is like being welcomed into the McElvains’ home. The couple bought the circa-1898 house in 1990. They live in the front part, while their shop and showroom occupies the back.

Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas has it all, from weathervanes fashioned like pineapples to a hummingbird sipping a flower’s nectar. Captain Ahab and Moby Dick and more folk art-style pieces can be found on the shelves.

“It is kind of like a museum,” Ellen said. “People come in and are just amazed how many we have.”

A flying pig weathervane. PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

A flying pig weathervane.
PHOTO BY MADALYNE BIRD

To make a weathervane, Bill first carves the two sides of the design in wood. Then, he creates cast-iron molds for the designs. Finally, the copper is hammered into the mold and the two sides are soldered together.

All of the designs in the shop belong to the McElvains, including the flying pig and one of Bill’s favorites, the party pig (a dancing pig holding a martini glass). Most of the weathervanes also come in different treatments ranging from natural to patina copper with a choice of standard or scrolled directionals.

The shop also does custom work. Customers can bring in an idea or sketch to Bill and he’ll see if he can reproduce it in the form of a weathervane.

“The art form is what makes me happy, “Bill said. “That we created something that people appreciate.”

Bar Harbor Weathervanes and Cupolas

Where: 852 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton

Hours: Open through late October. Sunday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Contact: 667-3868, [email protected], www.weathervanefactory.com.

Kansas City native Madalyne Bird was a 2014 summer intern for the Ellsworth American working primarily for the paper's summer guide to Downeast Maine, Out and About.