Steve and Joan Garner are generous people and like to give back. Both spent 30 years as teachers at SUNY Oneonta, Joan in the Migrant Farming Program and Steve in Health and Physical Education with additional duties as athletic director and coach.
When they retired in 2011, Steve and Joan decided to move to Trumansburg and live in Steve’s family home, which his dad built on South Street. About five years ago, Steve decided to learn how to make Whirligigs. After much research, reading “how to” books, and trial and error, he successfully designed and built his first one. Many more followed. “I didn’t want to sell any of them and kind of thought of them as pets,” mused Steve. “I would just put them out in the yard, watch the wind move the propeller, and enjoy the action of each Whirligig. Each one had its own story to tell.”
According to Wikipedia, a Whirligig is an object that spins or whirls or has at least one part that spins or whirls. Whirligigs are most commonly powered by the wind, but can be hand, friction, or motor powered. Many are used as kinetic garden ornaments. Traditional designs depict common characters and activities from early American rural life. The faster the wind blows, the more furiously the figures move.
A wind-driven Whirligig transfers the energy of the wind into either a simple release of kinetic energy through rotation or a more complicated transfer of rotational energy to power a simple or complicated mechanism that produces repetitive motions and/or creates sounds. The wind simply pushes on the Whirligig turning one part of it and it then uses inertia. The simplest and most common example of a wind-driven Whirligig is the pinwheel. Whirligigs come in a range of sizes and configurations, bound only by creation and imagination of the builder.
Whirligigs were known in early Chinese, Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman civilizations. The first known visual representation of a European Whirligig is contained in a medieval tapestry that depicts children playing with a Whirligig consisting of a hobby horse on one end of a stick and a four-blade propeller at the other end. They first appeared in the US about 200 years ago.
Three years ago, Steve’s brother, Richard was ill and in Hospicare. After he passed away, Steve wanted to do something for Hospicare Palliative Care Services because they had been so wonderful for Richard and the family. He decided to use the many Whirligigs he had created to benefit the community resource. “I didn’t want to sell them, but wanted to have donations instead. Lowe’s came on board and donated wood, posts, and generally helped with expenses. They basically told me to take anything I wanted and it would be free,” Steve said. “Later on, Home Depot also helped out because Hospicare was the eventual recipient for donations.”
Hospicare was really important to Steve and Joan, so, after Richard passed away, they got the idea to “sell” 25 Whirligigs at the Trumansburg Fair. The Fairgrounds Association was very helpful, so they set up a tent and “sold” the Whirligigs for free. Anyone could have a Whirligig if they agreed to donate money to Hospicare. Each Whirligig cost $45 to $65 to make, so the hope was that each individual would send at least that much to Hospicare. “People were very receptive at the fair,” remarked Steve. “Some people would give a donation and not take a Whirligig. It seemed like everyone we talked to had a connection with Hospicare.”
Steve does not consider himself a real craftsman. The Whirligigs are purely folk art. The more success he had, the more addicted he became to making them. Soon, his garage was full of an assortment of Whirligigs and he had to buy a shed to store them so he could use his garage again. Steve mostly uses ¼ – ½ inch pine and plywood in the construction. He gets his ideas from everywhere – books, TV, magazines, nature, and then thinks about what he can add to create a scene. Next, he decides what features he would like to move to enhance the story of each Whirligig. It could be arms, legs, a torso, shark jaws, mermaid and fish … or any number of other items. The movement mechanism is then created with wire to articulate the Whirligig. Each is colorfully painted in acrylic and then covered with 2 coats of high gloss polyurethane.
“Whirligigs are collectible and increase in value as they age. They were used to entertain children with their gentle movements,” Steve explained. “They just can’t be left out in the elements because they are hand-crafted wood and paint. They will last a long time if they are taken care of. Whirligigs are fun to watch and enjoyable, but they need to be taken inside during rain and winter months.”
When COVID-19 hit, everything bogged down and the Garners could not give away their Whirligigs at the fair. Steve kept making Whirligigs though. Eventually, word of mouth started up the process of giving them away again while making donations to Hospicare. People came around to get Steve’s Whirligigs as gifts and Christmas presents. “I like to think about all of the good that goes to Hospicare when the Whirligig operates. I do not collect any money. All of it goes to Hospicare and I trust that people donate when they take a Whirligig,” Steve commented. “People contribute what they want to and neither Joan’s nor my name appears on the envelope or information from Hospicare. It is a good feeling to give to Hospicare. The Whirligig is secondary to the donation. It is given, not bought. The donation to Hospicare is the important part. It’s a win – win for everyone.”
If you would like to select a beautiful one-of-a-kind folk art Whirligig, you can contact Steve Garner at (607) 280-7715 or by email at Stevegarner52@yahoo.com. He does not take requests, but there are many wonderful Whirligigs to choose from.
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