John Haley Bellamy


was a woodcarver best known for his ship carvings. Born in Kittery Point, Maine, the son of a carpenter and boat builder, in his youth Bellamy studied art in Bostonand New York City before apprenticing to a Boston ship carver. He worked in Boston and Charlestown, Massachusetts, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but spentmost of his professional career in Kittery Point, working in a second-floor studio in his father and brother’s boat shop. Bellamy’s work marks the continuation of theship carver’s art from its heyday in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to the period just preceding the end of the sailing-ship era.The staples of the ship carver’s art were billet-head figures; sternboards; figureheads that often depicted mythological or allegorical figures; and other ornamentalwork. Bellamy is known to have carved at least one eagle billet-head figure, but his only known figurehead is also his most ambitious carving: a nearly two-ton eaglefigurehead for the U.S.S.
carved in 1880, the same year that his occupation in the United States federal census was listed as “carpenter.”Bellamy may be best remembered for carving numerous patriotic eagle wall plaques, intended as house decorations, as well as larger examples used for architecturalornaments. Possibly inspired by the national pride generated during Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876, these plaques vary greatly in size. Those intended for domestic use, as well as some made as gifts, follow the same general format: a pair of stylized, spread wings are carved in relief from a single pine board, with theeagle’s head and neck carved in three dimensions from a block of wood, then attached to the wings with screws. Bellamy’s eagles have distinctively patterned feathers,ingeniously foreshortened heads and necks, and fierce expressions with large curved beaks. Often polychromed, some eagle plaques include shields, flags, or flowing banners, carved separately, on which sentiments such as “Happy New Year,” “Long Live Dewey,” or “Carpe Diem” are carved and painted. Based on the number of surviving examples, Bellamy’s patriotic eagle plaques were popular decorative accessories in Kitteryarea homes. Bellamy’s eagles were so popular, in fact, that other unidentified carvers began to mimic his style. These derivative pieces have made identification of Bellamy’s work sometimes difficult.The advent of steam-powered iron ships in the 1850s significantly reduced demand for the ship carver’s art. Bellamy’s Portsmouth business card, advertising house and ship, furniture, sign and frame carving, and garden figures, demonstrates that as the importance of ship carving diminished over time, carvers nevertheless sought new ways to market their skills and sustain a livelihood.
See also
Maritime Folk Art
Hollander, Stacy C., et al.
American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum.
New York, 2000.Smith, Yvonne Brault.
John Haley Bellamy, Carver of Eagles.
Portsmouth, N.H., 1982