This American Indian warrior figure was one of a pair which crowned the twin towers of the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill in Salem, Massachusetts. (The name "Naumkeag" is Native American for "fishing place" and was the original name of Salem. ) The Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company, which was established by Nathaniel Griffin with capital raised from local residents, owned the Mill, which was built from 1839 to 1848 by Charles James. The mill complex and company revolutionized the textile industry; the mill was the first in America to be run by steam rather than hydropower, and the company introduced early forms of employee benefits, such as pension, health care, and training. The factory burned down during the "Great Fire of 1914" and was quickly rebuilt, although the weathervanes no longer appear in documented pictures, presumably lost in, destroyed by, or retired after the fire. This pair of Indian trade signs can be seen in both an 1850 oil painting of the factory (see figure 1) and in a later photograph. (In 1955, Indian Head Mills, Inc. purchased the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company, which by then was manufacturing Pequot sheets at Pequot mills. )
The American Indian served as a popular subject for early weathervanes prior to their commercial production. The first such vane whose maker is known is Shem Drowne's Indian, made in 1716 for the Province House in Boston. A common pose depicted the Indian as a hunter, with his bow and arrow prepared to shoot. Traditionally, balance was created by counteracting the weight of the headdress with that of the bow and arrow, and the arrow aptly served as the wind directional signal. Such a model easily lent itself to a two dimensional silhouette, as the figure attests. During the early factory-production of weather vanes in the mid-nineteenth century, the Indian no longer was a common theme. Of the relatively few that were produced during this time, the most frequent pose displayed the Indian with an arrow in one hand and a bow in the other. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, commercially manufactured Indian weathervanes only increased in rarity, as hunters depicted as gun-toting sportsmen all but replaced the classic American Indian.
A large Indian of similar construction is pictured in Klamkin, Weather Vanes: The History, Design, and Manufacture of an American Folk Art, on page 142, and is in the collection of the Shelburne Museum. Another Indian with a drawn bow and arrow, produced in the late nineteenth century, is also pictured in Klamkin, Weather Vanes: The History, Design, and Manufacture of an American Folk Art, on page 144, and is credited to Ryder House Antiques.
According to the Columbus Museum of Art, when the Indian weathervane was acquired from the Willard Gallery in New York (voucher no. 9980), it was the largest existing trade sign in America.