A Transom Eagle On The Constitution

The image is not the best, but the purpose here is to illustrate a story, not a point directly about carving. The picture is from the early nineties, and is pre-digital.
During the nineties, I frequently went into the old Navy Yard to have lunch with my friend Bill Bromell. Bill was the model maker at the Constitution Museum and had an absolutely to die for shop above the Constitution’s maintenance shop.
One day we were walking through the maintenance shop on our way to lunch and stopped to watch one of the carpenters working on the transom eagle seen in the picture I’ve attached. I was doing the traditional carver’s routine of looking at all the details of someone else’s work when I noticed the paint pot nearby and the sad look on the carpenter’s face. We did the usual thing and asked what was wrong. Sadly, he explained that he had just finished carefully stripping the old bird and was about to prime it before it was re-installed. Carved in 1910 of Ponderosa pine ( not wood we’d generally look to these days for carving…but old growth? That might be a different story). This eagle was probably a replacement for something earlier. Carved wood on vessels does not last forever.
On explanation, it turned out that he’d just finished stripping multiple layers of old paint. Wood on vessels needs paint or varnish to aid in preservation. But, the detail disappears. And, the detail on this eagle’s bare wood was incredible. I felt a pang of sympathy for the carver who created such beauty knowing that it would not be on display often. Not having a camera on me at the time, this was before cell phones, I never got a picture of the unpainted eagle.
Having been in the Navy myself, and knowing the age-old rubric that “ if it moves – salute it. If it doesn’t paint it” I asked: How many coats did you take off it? 56 he said.
There I stood. Thinking about the average bosun, and the average bosun’s frame of mind when confronted with keeping the deck division busy…” Hey you! Johnson! Rig a bosun’s chair and paint the bloody eagle.”
I fully understood the sadness of both the carpenter and years of seaman Johnsons.

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