by Yvonne Brault Smith
John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914) has become one of America’s best known woodcarvers. His so-called Bellamy hanging wall eagle is frequently copied by contemporary carvers and his individual pieces are actively collected. His most famous work is pictured above, the Lancaster eagle figurehead, on permanent display at the Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia. Weighing 3,200 pounds with a eighteen-foot wingspan, it is a marvel of artistic and engineering ingenuity.
A native of Kittery Point, Maine, Bellamy never considered himself an artist and signed few of his pieces but his carvings are so distinctive that experts can easily identify them. Bellamy’s eagles show a simplicity of design, form, and shape, yet he gave his birds a swing, a feeling of action and movement. He also produced other animals, furniture, and decorative cases for ships as well as Masonic frames and clock cases.
Despite his great talent, Bellamy led a troubled, restless life, often moving from job to job, sometimes working for as little as $2.50 per day at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where he carved the Lancaster eagle. He also worked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as well as Charlestown and Boston, Massachusetts.
In writing this book, author Smith was able to utilize family papers and correspondence, long thought lost but recovered in the 1970s, to reveal aspects of Bellamy’s life that have long puzzled and confused other authors. She also explores his carving methods and techniques. More than 60 illustrations and newly drawn patterns provide an overview of this unusual craftsman.
7×10 Paperback reprint, 2002. (Hardcover out of print.) 120 pages, ISBN 0-915819-33-3 $20.00