I carved intermittently from the 1960s through the mid-seventies. My efforts to go pro with this were not too successful. I didn’t pick up carving again until 1992. While helping a friend build a boat it got mentioned that I had tried my hand at marine carving years ago. A few months later while helping my friend at a boat show, he referred a customer to me who was looking for a transom banner. I was not “ready for Prime Time” yet, but I was back in the world of carving.
I returned to carving by way of small boat shops. My mentors were all boatbuilders. As a consequence, my shop looked more like a boat shop than an artists studio. In a traditional boat shop, the rafters are hung with patterns of all sorts. Any given model may have additional marks, curves and notes on it denoting the changes needed to add, subtract, or otherwise modify the design. In this way you can easily alter a craft; or a carving. Because this was the sort of setting in which I came to the trade as a real professional it was the model that I followed.
For some years I taught marine carving at WoodenBoat School in Brooklin, Maine. Each time I made my pilgrimage to Brooklin I stuffed my Subaru so full of patterns that I’d wonder if I’d get up the hills on my way Down East. In the small shops, I was familiar with craftsman copied and modified patterns for their own use as they set out to establish their own shops ( not all builders are happy to see patterns walk out the door like this). Similarly, students would take my patterns, and make their own copies that they could then modify. I was perpetuating a tradition.
My tradition of marine carving is in a sense a broken tradition. I had no access to old marine carvers to teach me the trade. My mentors in carving had no interest in eagles, transom banners, and the like. So, I was never really sure what my antecedents in the trade would have made of my shop or my approach. As a sum of my experiences I “thought” I knew what a Marine carver’s shop would have looked like; similar to the boat shops, I was familiar with.
This made sense being that the carver and shipbuilder worked closely together, and carefully coordinated efforts to achieve the desired effects on the ship. But, I wasn’t sure. Recreations of such shops left me unconvinced. Then one Sunday returning from WoodenBoat it all changed. I had made a fast passage from Brooklin to Bath and had time to visit the Maritime Museum in Bath before it closed. Wandering around, and snapping photos of carvings, I came upon an exhibit room tricked out as a carver’s shop. Inconspicuously leaning against the wall was a life-size pattern for a figurehead. Having seen many figures carved similarly to this pattern my mind’s eye quickly filled in some variations possible with this one pattern. I was reassured.
I went home and started a series of eagles all originating from the same pattern, all very different,