• Maine Coast Workshop

Carving a Bellamy eagle - part II

We'll pick up where we left off in our last blog post: So far we have covered the selection of wood, making a pattern, gluing up the necessary parts to achieve the proper width and high points at the top of the wings and the extra piece for the head.

I have received some nice feedback. There is interest in adding a Bellamy eagle carving class at the Maine Coast Workshop. So we'll plan to teach this for sure; stay tuned by signing up for updates at

Next, we'll continue to refine the wing shape and start carving the feathers. Before we do that, let's look a little more into the interesting history of the original eagle carver, John Haley Bellamy......

I'll be giving a series of talks to accompany an exhibit of my eagles at the Camden Library in Camden, Maine in the summer of 2021. I'm working on getting Bellamy expert, James Craig, who is curator at the Portsmouth Historical Society in NH, to come up to speak at one of the sessions. I'll also try to time this event to complement one of my Bellamy eagle carving classes at the Maine Coast Workshop so students can enjoy both.

Widely considered to be the pinnacle of American woodcarving, the Bellamy Eagle vies with such hallowed icons as the Statue of Liberty, the Great Seal of the United States, and Old Glory itself in representing the United States. Yet what of its creator? Who was the man responsible for giving flight to this most celebrated piece of Americana?

Woodworker John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914) carved stylized representations of American eagles at his shop on the grounds of his family home, the iconic Pepperrell Mansion in Kittery Point, Maine.

To write American Eagle: The Bold Art and Brash Life of John Haley Bellamy author James A. Craig spent five years in detective work, examining all the newly-available evidence of the carver’s life and career. His heavily illustrated biography examines the master’s carving with new appreciation and documents his continuing influence on woodcarvers today.

"CRAIG’S COLORFUL ACCOUNT of Bellamy’s life and career vigorously argues for a man with a vision for his art. Creating a body of work that was ambitious both in scale and sheer volume, Bellamy translated his skills as ship carver into a populist decorative form that was potently infused with his nautical upbringing and surroundings. Craig’s work offers tremendous depth to our appreciation of Bellamy’s quintessentially American sculptures." — Daniel Finamore, Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, Peabody Essex Museum

"JIM CRAIG’S RICH AND ENGAGING STORY of the life and work of John Haley Bellamy is a tremendous contribution to the literature on American sculpture. These masterful carvings, born of commerce and meant to ornament the daily life of the young Republic, are inextricably tied to American culture at its most fundamental level. Craig’s masterful volume imparts a fascinating and unforgettable look at Bellamy’s life and times and the breathtaking artwork for which this remarkable artist is so justly renowned." — Paul S. D’Ambrosio, President & CEO, Fenimore Art Museum & The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, NY

Bold and Brash: the Art of John Haley Bellamy” was an exhibit at the Discover Portsmouth Center a number of years back......

If there was any doubt of the importance of 19th century Kittery Point, Maine, woodworker John Haley Bellamy, it was dispelled when collectors, museum curators and dealers from throughout New England and beyond came to the Discover Portsmouth Center to revel in his collected works.

With more than 100 pieces from private and public collections throughout the United States, the largest Bellamy exhibit ever held opens today at the center. John Bellamy is known for his stylized representations of American eagles that he carved at his shop on the grounds of the family home, the iconic Pepperrell Mansion.

“It is extremely important that Bellamy be honored in this way,” said Ron Bourgeault of Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth. Bourgeault, who bought his first Bellamy eagle at age 17, has been dealing in Bellamy’s works for more than 40 years. He sold one of the eagles in 2005 for a record $660,000. The eagle, with a banner flowing from his beak that states, “God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength,” was in the exhibit.

“He was a great American patriot and a great scholar,” said Bourgeault.

Here's a video of Craig's wonderful Bellamy presentation.

And here's my dad at 92, just back from ushering at church, holding one of my Bellamy carvings........

Not to brag, but he was one of the top US long distance runners in the USA. It began back in the 1950's when he won the PA State Champ's as a walk-on freshman, running for Upper Darby High School (but I digress).....

Allan Katz, another dealer in Bellamy eagles, came to Portsmouth from Woodbridge, Conn. Katz harkened to Bellamy’s “democratic” roots. Bellamy, his family and his apprentices produced thousands of eagles at his workshop, which were reasonably priced and sold locally.

“He made art for the masses, and in doing that he became very successful,” said Katz.

Concurrent with the exhibit, the Portsmouth Historical Society is publishing a 240-page, lushly illustrated biography, “American Eagle,” by author and independent curator James Craig.

Craig spent years working on the book, and tracked down many of the owners who allowed their work to be displayed in the exhibit.

Here are some of my Bellamy carvings.....

Bellamy Eagles | William Francis Brown | Line And Berry |Camden, Maine

Bellamy's "War & Peace" eagles are shown in the next photo. Traditionally, right facing eagles represent war and left facing represent peace. On American emblems and seals, the eagles are always peace eagles, on war ship they are war eagles. I'm currently carving these two, at 7 feet each, for a client in Camden, Maine.......

Well, that's enough history for now. Let's get back to our eagle:

We left off with the shaping of the wings.......

Remember that we built up the top of the wings by gluing on extra basswood (or pine) blocks to achieve that extra inch and a half or 2 of height. No need to start with a 4 inch thick board when you would have to remove 80% of it - that would be way too much work and wasteful of good wood!

BTW, I screw a piece of 2x4 to the underside and clamp that in a vise to hold my eagles for carving. You only need a 4x4 foot square area to carve, so this is a hobby that folks can do almost anywhere. And ignore all those tools, it took me a lifetime to accumulate that many. You can get by with a basic set for under $250 total. I'll be selling these quality sets along with mallets (both of which I can obtain for a discounted price from Schaaf Tools) for a very good price at the Store on the Maine Coast Workshop soon.

Here's what we should accomplish today.....