From the June 1, 1982 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

The old gilded weather vane that formerly crowned the steeple of the Federated Church in Edgartown hasn’t had an easy time of it.

Through at least a century of punishment the vane held fast to its majestic perch, but not without battle scars.

Metal crafters, some meticulous, some obviously hurried, repaired the vane as it aged, regilding, refinishing and refitting with rough metal patches set in place with screws and rivets to cover the deteriorating copper.

In recent years such structural modifications as a wooden dowel secured to the vane’s center column with fishing wire and a piece of pipe screwed into the brass cross section were added to hold the battered weather vane together.

The vane spun freely and did its job with only a few exceptions until last fall when a storm forced its unexpected departure from the steeple.

The vane rests today in crumpled and battered pieces on the floor of a Vineyard Haven metalworking shop, its scars from past battles sadly apparent.

A few feet from the twisted remnants of the old vane, a replacement swings slightly on a metal rod gripped by an immense vise in the workshop of metal sculptor Travis Tuck of West Tisbury.

The new vane is almost an exact replica of the old one, carefully crafted with brass tubing and copper and covered with 23-karat gold leaf. Steeplejacks are expected to install the new vane atop the church spire this week.

According to Mr. Tuck, what was left of the old vane was brought to him in January, but rather than trying to patch it again he said: “It was easier at that point to just do another one.”

So he laid the broken pieces out on paper and traced them, cutting out the patterns in copper. He had to wait until April to form the infrastructure of brass tubing after the steeplejack Chris Burgess determined the diameter of the rod on which the vane spins.

The new vane was finished two weeks ago and is ready for mounting; the old vane will become part of the church’s special collection in the Dukes County Historical Society.

For Mr. Tuck, 39, this is his first attempt at applying the gold leaf to one of his creations. Because the project is somewhat akin to on-the-job training, Mr. Tuck refused to charge the church for his labor in gold leaf.

Mr. Tuck says reconstructing the vane was relatively simple and the application of the gold leaf easier than he expected. Applying the gold gilt to the four-foot wide vane took him and assistant Sam Durant about eight hours.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the weather vane is not its golden surface, but the small ball that adorns its main axle. Upon close inspection, there’s something that looks awfully familiar about it. It couldn’t be a...

“Yeah, it’s a float right out of a toilet tank,” Mr. Tuck says with a grin.

“Everybody seems to get the biggest charge out of that, so instead of getting a spun ball, which are readily available, I got one from a plumber friend of mine just to keep the chuckle alive.”

Like its predecessor, the ball adorning the new spire came directly from years of use in a toilet, although the new model features a fluted surface.

“I think the fluting is more attractive.”

Unlike the craftsman who made the 19th century vane, Mr. Tuck signed his creation and made sure to include the year 1982 after his name, not just ‘82. The years cloud memories, and someone might mistake the new vane for work done in the last century.

According to records kept by the church hierarchy, the old vane was a part of an 1879 church renewal project.

Apparently the old weather vane’s predecessor also was in sad shape when it was retired. Writing in the margin of the church record book, a clerk noted during the 1879 reconstruction that “the vane on the spire of this church building had not answered to the wind since 1868, but had remained steadily fixed pointed about E. N.E. by compass during that period.”

Mr. Tuck said the old vane was patched and regilded last summer, “but unfortunately the thing blew down shortly after that.”

He says even though the new vane will be so far off the ground that few will view it closely, attention to detail is just as important for a vane as for a sculpture in someone’s living room.

If something on the vane isn’t just right, “I’de know,” he says.

“I always feel that I’m doing it as much for the guy who takes it down 50 years from and says, ‘Geez, those old guys really knew what they were doing.’

“I really like that sense of things. If I fell over dead tomorrow . . . there would be a lot of me left. Give me another 30 or 40 years and there’ll be a lot more, I hope.”

Mr. Tuck says he liked the design of the church weather vane so much he asked permission to copy it on a smaller scale for residential use.

The cost of the new church weather vane was $1,550.

“It was a learning process for me,” Mr. Tuck says. “You know anything that’s made by hand, you’re never going to get rich on.”

Compiled by Hilary Wall