This unique piece of folk art was purchased in Albert Lea, Minnesota
from a woman who says it was made by a sailor on or before World War
II, so I guess it would be considered original folk art.
This item has been crudely made, and the significance of a windmill with
birds inside a piece of wormword has been long lost. It’s definitely a
conversation piece, and extremely rare. I could find nothing similar
The piece is about 15 ½ inches tall, about 8 inches wide and about 5 inches deep.
It looks like it is a from a timber.
Many of the holes have a silvery shine to them. I’m not sure this is
from the Teredo worm or if the artist had a little aluminum paint that
he very carefully applied. It does give a little more definition to the
As you can see, there is a small bird attached to the blades of the
windmill with a wire. Three other birds are loose, but I’m sure were
attached by glue or wire in the past. The larger bird does fit into the
windmill hole, as pictured, but could well be placed elsewhere. This
larger bird shows a few remaining signs of formerly having real bird
feathers attached to it.
The windmill itself shows signs of having been glued into the opening in
It is 7 ½ inches tall, 2 ½ inches in diameter. The deer head above the
little tunnel has a metal antler, but one of them is missing. The blade
of the windmill does not turn, or at least does not turn easily, and I
haven’t forced it. There is a small crack in one of the blades.
Who knows what ship this beam is from, or how old it is! The wormwood
piece itself has a few little saw marks showing from where the center
was hollowed out, and there is a repair to the lower left of the shelf
where two little rusty nails hold on a corner.
Wondering where the holes come from? It’s actually a clam!
The wood may drift in the ocean currents for weeks or months and
travel many miles around the world before it comes to land. During this
time at sea the wood is attacked by Teredo worms, often called ship's
worms. These worms attach themselves as small larvae and grow in size as
they bore into the wood. Softer woods can be almost completely consumed
in a matter of time while hardwoods and woods that reach land sooner
are less wormy. The worms die when the wood dries out of the water.
The ship's worms leave a calcium shell deposited in the wood and
they bore into the wood getting bigger as they go, usually across the
grain. The termites bore tunnels up and down the grain and leave small
hard pellets behind. Carpenter ants usually excavate a small area and
they will scare off when you shake the board.
Shipworms, also called by mariners as the ‘termites of the sea’ belong
to the genus called Teredo, the most notorious of which is Teredo
navalis, originally native to the Caribbean Sea. It is actually a clam
that tunnels through wood submerged in the sea.
Though the Teredo
serves an ecological value in degrading timber that falls to the ocean,
it has also caused considerable damage to wooden boats even since man
first ventured out to sea. Shipworms have been a bane to ancient
mariners till the advent of copper clad ships by the 18th century and
modern toxic coatings.
These boring clams weakened the unprotected wooden hulls of ships to the
point that they break apart in the open sea without any warning. The
Greeks and the Phoenicians certainly knew about them since 3,000 BC,
lathering the hulls of their ships with wax and tar to keep them away.
The Romans used combinations of lead, tar and pitch to cover their boat.