The windvanes of kurenkahns: an open-air museum
In the 14th–15th centuries, the fishermen of the Curonian Lagoon already had sailing boats specific for this type of water body. The large ones were called Kuren boats or kurenkahns (Lithuanian kurėnas), and the smaller ones were called keitelkahns (Lithuanian kiudelvaltė),bradekahns (Lithuanianbradinė) and ventekahns (Lithuanian venterinė). They all had a flat bottom, shallow draft, upright sides made of oak planks, and windvanes on top of masts. The appearance of windvanes in fishing boats is related to the development of fishing control and monitoring in the Kingdom of Prussia in the 19th century.
A governmental order of 26 June 1844 instructed that the owner of each sailing boat must raise a two-feet long and one-foot wide flag on the mast. The flag of each settlement had its own specific colour or combination of colours and simple geometric shapes (regional signs). Contrasting colours were chosen so that the sign of the village could be well visible from afar. The colours of the Curonian Spit were black and white, the eastern side of the lagoon flew white and red, and the southern side – blue and yellow.
The first windvanes with regional signs were made of sturdy canvas or tin and had a textile flag attached. Eventually, the fishermen of the Curonian Spit started decorating the windvanes with wooden carvings and painting them in different colours. Most often, they carved stylized geometric and plant ornaments, nautical motifs, signs of faith and love, and symbols of statehood. This was the origin of the Curonian Spit windvanes, locally called ‘crowns’, ‘colours’ or ‘vėlukas’. The fishermen of the Curonian Spit used to raise a boat flag on the masts of their sailing boats.
Over time, fishing traditions in the Curonian Lagoon changed, old fishing boats became extinct together with their windvanes. Many years have passed before the artists and architects living by the sea brought them to life again. When tidying up the lagoon waterfront in Nida in 1998, an idea was born to arrange an open-air exhibition of windvanes. The project was prepared by architects brother and sister R. and R. Krištapavičius. The windvanes for the exhibition were crafted by V. Bliudžius from Švėkšna, perhaps the only craftsman of sailing boat windvanes in Lithuania. The first windvanes were erected in 2004 on the waterfront in Nida. As the project continued from 2005 to 2007, the waterfront from the Ethnographic Fisherman’s Homestead to the former Hermann Blode hotel was decorated by windvanes of the Curonian Spit villages elevated on actual-size masts.