I once decided to carve ten eagles from variations on the same basic pattern. The 18th and nineteenth-century carvers had done it. Look at the repetitive poses of young women or men carved as graceful additions to ships bows. Eagles also seem to fall into family groups.
Shipscarver’s knew the knack of altering arm or leg positions, changing a collar, or a gown to something more 1860 than 1850. Who was I to pretend to know more than my masters?
I began with a photo of my favorite eagle at Mystic Seaport. The transom eagle from the first U.S.S Pennsylvania. I enlarged it to a size that I could use as a pattern, and from there, set about a two-year-long excursion into variations on themes.
In my first iteration, I found myself channeling a bit of McIntire as I played with the head . However, I checked myself short of going the McIntire serpentine neck route. I carved this one in a lovely piece of sugar pine, and the closeness of the grain allowed me excellent control of the tools. The movement in the legs of this eagle permited me to create a real sense of depth and movement in a piece of wood that was not that thick.
In the middle of the cycle of ten eagles, I channeled a very tiny bit of Bellamy with the head, neck, shelving of the upper wing, and banner. Anyone knowing Bellamy’s work though will recognize that he was an influence on my approach without any attempt to copy his style. It was just fun to acknowledge the master without imitating him. Made out of white pine, I gilded the piece, which I usually do only at client request.
The final eagle was a bit more architectural in approach. The head looks downward, and the body seems to be marching forward under a canopy of threatening wings. The wings were hollowed, to giving the eagle an aggressive look. Carved from thick local Massachusetts pine, I had a piece of wood that could take bold carving. Preparatory to gilding, I thinly painted with bronze paint. I liked the semi-transparent effect so well that I’ve left it that way.
Boat shops are full of patterns with notes and measurements on how to alter the boat to desired length breadth or other features. The old-time carvers most likely did the same.
The great martial artist Miyamoto Musashi said that from one thing, we could learn a thousand things.
Mix things up. Learn something new from something old.