by Lou Carreras
The eagle presented here was a commission. It’s an all-time favorite design that I first carved in the 1970’s when I saw Jay Hanna’s take on this classic 19th-century carving trope.
After carving four or five variations on Hanna’s redesign of the classic, I moved on to other designs. About twenty years ago a client saw a photo of my first effort at Hanna’s eagle in my scrapbook. He decided that it would be the perfect launching gift for a boat his friends were building. After settling on a price, deposit and timeline I went hunting for the wood. Although I love to carve in New England white pine, I opted to do this eagle in Western sugar pine. It is not too easy these days to get good quality sugar pine, but I was fortunate in finding a short piece locally that was just what I needed. Western sugar pine has an enticing odor when carved, but mostly I love it for its straight grain and ability to take and hold fine detail. The photos show the progression of the project from pattern through gilding. Although this is a small eagle, meant for a cabin interior, the underlying essentials are the same for most relief eagles in which the head and banner are not separately added pieces. And…yes it is true; on eagles like this, I do carve the head first so the eagle can watch what I do. So far I haven’t been bitten.
Medora turned out to be a game changer for me. Okay, this is where it gets weird. One night after finishing the carving I dreamt that I was in my favorite coffee house in New York City ( Cafe Rienzi). Seated with me was the famous carver John Haley Bellamy and my favorite painter Salvador Dali. Dali and Bellamy were pointing out that many things took on compelling interest when pulled out of proportion. Bellamy looked at me and pointed out that the wings on his eagles were exaggerated for precisely this reason. Dali smiled and agreed.
After waking up, I thought lots about that dream. Since then I’ve always added a bit more length to my eagle wings.
I heartily recommend to you Jay Hanna’s book on marine woodcarving: The Ship Carver’s Handbook, as well as anything you can find on John Haley Bellamy and Salvador Dali! Carving the eagle head first, and ghostly conversations with dead artists remain strictly optional.