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Dimensions (inches): 52" wide x 9" tall x 5.25" deep
Carved wooden eagle, attributed to the shop of the most renowned, American, 19th century carver of the form, John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914). A prolific artisan and entrepreneur, who considered himself more the latter than the former, this is one of Bellamy’s bread and butter forms, sold as decoration for ship stern boards, to be hung above the entry doors of private homes and businesses, or for any other location, indoors or out, on boats or on land, where patriotic adornment was desired.

An example of a Bellamy carving in this style appears on page 73 of "American Eagle: The Bold and Brash Life of John Haley Bellamy,” by Smith, Yvonne Brault, (2014, Portsmouth Marine Society). A printed sketch of a very similar form appears on the cover page.

Although Bellamy’s career as a carver began in his boyhood town of Kittery, Maine in the 1850’s, he appears to have carved his first stand-alone eagles (those not a part of something else) in the fall of 1872, when, working from a home base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he did so for a man by the name of Oscar Leighton on the Isles of Shoals, which bridge the border between New Hampshire and his home state of Maine. He reproduced one of the two carvings to have on hand to sell, then began producing others and selling them all over the greater Portsmouth area. By 1873 he had carved so many that he exclaimed, “If I stay here a short time longer [I] shall have them [eagles] over every door.” (Smith, p. 21).

Renting bench space at first in Portsmouth and working alongside other carvers, then his own space at 17-18 Daniel Street, Bellamy established production-line methods in order to turn out carvings in quantity. Smith describes them as being “like snowflakes in a storm, alike but different” (p. 37). Bellamy was a drunk, known to be temperamental, which no-doubt led to further variation.

Many of Bellamy’s eagles are gilded. Some painted white. Most are decorated in red, white, and blue, and sometimes black. This example is unusual due to its grey-painted ground. I have seen grey examples previously, but they are not the norm. Because his works were both commissioned and produced for stock, anything was possible.

Trimmed in Navy blue and red, with a red mouth, tongue, eye, and nostril, the colors and the surface of this particular bird are especially attractive. Present is the most common text that appears on any Bellamy eagle, “Don’t Give Up The Ship.” These are the words of American ship Captain James Lawrence (1781–1813), uttered during the War of 1812, while mortally wounded aboard his ship, the U.S.S. Chesapeake, at the Battle of Lake Erie.

Probably made sometime between roughly 1890 and 1905, the most profound feature of this example is the exaggerated, elongated profile that allows it to fit in a very narrow space. This adds a great measure of folk quality to the already beautiful, flowing form.

Condition: There are two repaired breaks, strengthened on the reverse with three mending plates. There is very minor bleeding of the blue pigment into the grey in limited areas. There are very minor losses.

Brief History of Bellamy as a Wood Carver & Shipwright:
John Bellamy laid his entrepreneurial roots as a carver of various things. Ship's decoration, including figureheads, cat's heads, stern boards, and the decorative elements inside living quarters were among them. Early on in his career, he primarily carved these things while employed by others as an apprentice.

Bellamy outfitted a carving shop in his boyhood town of Kittery, Maine, sometime during the 1850’s. Hoping to increase his client base, he moved to the Boston waterfront, but had returned home by mid-1860 and soon after was employed by the U.S. Navy Yard in Portsmouth as a ship carver.

Charles Gerrish Bellamy, John's father, was an expert woodcraftsman and, among other things, had been employed by the Navy as a lumber inspector. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he was placed in charge of ship building at both the Portsmouth Navy Yard and the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. At some point, the date of which is unclear to scholars, John Bellamy was transferred to the Boston yard and continued work there until well after the war's conclusion. When the war ended, the Navy was both downsizing and hiring veterans to fill vacancies. Men who had not gone to war, like Bellamy, were generally in ill favor among those who had. John held on, however, probably as a result of both his father's influence and his own significant skill. In addition to being a master carver, John was an ingenious engineer and a problem solver, working in a place and time when such skills would have been revered by his peers. He was an inventor and applied for at least 30 patents. Like most craftsmen employed by the Portsmouth yard during this out-of-war period, he pursued outside work because the yard only required 8 hour/day, while a commercial shipyard would demand perhaps 16 hours.

By 1866, Bellamy had a side business in Charlestown at 11 City Square, on the first floor of a Masonic Hall, carving frames, clocks, and shelves, mostly for a Masonic audience. In that year and those that closely followed, he took on a series of profitable ventures producing these works and selling them not only in Northern New England, but soon across many states. He hired employees, among which was his brother Elijah. Even his father partook in the work for at times. He had a sales staff that included at least one of his friends from the Charlestown Navy Yard, David Titcomb, who left his job entirely and appears to have been very successful in selling examples down the eastern seaboard, in West Virginia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. The carvings were customized and made to order, thus they were detailed to represent various divisions within the Masons and were sometimes personalized. He moved to Portsmouth in 1872.
Primary Color: red, blue, grey
Earliest Date: 1890
Latest Date: 1905
For Sale Status: Sold
Price SOLD
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