Last year I got the opportunity to repair three old carved eagles, all belonging to the same collector. Two of the eagles were genuine John Haley Bellamy eagles and one was an old copy. One of the genuine Bellamys was an example of his early work. It gave me a rare chance to study the originals up close, and take them apart. I’ve seen dozens of genuine Bellamy eagles up close, but this is the first time I got the chance to remove the head. It was interesting, and a great opportunity to closely examine the master’s work and techniques.
Following are photos of those eagles and their repairs.
We’ll start with the old copy.
It looks like a genuine Bellamy but it is not. Whoever carved it got most of the features correct but failed miserably with the vanes and quills. The beak is broken off and it is missing much of the right wing. Because this is just a copy and not very valuable the owner decided to just have me fix the beak and leave the wing alone. Here is a closeup of the broken beak
And here is what it looks like after being repaired.
Matching the color of the wood was the most difficult part of that repair.
Next project was the very early genuine Bellamy eagle.
This bird had two problems. The broken beak was the obvious problem. The other was the missing wood on the bottom of the left wing. The feathers are supposed to come down even with the shield, and the tail feather is missing completely. Bellamy carved the bottom of the wings so thin that this is not uncommon. But because it had been repaired and reshaped a long time ago, the owner decided to leave the wing alone.
Here is a closeup of the beak.
I began the repair by removing the head. It was held on with one screw from the back. I then used a disk sander to flatten the back side of the beak to create a nice surface to glue on a wedge of pine.
Then I sanded most of the new wood to match the angle of the front side of the beak.
And glue on a piece to the front side of the beak.
Then shape the new wood.
Then finish carving the features. I was able to use a photo of another early Bellamy eagle just like this one to figure out what the beak should look like. It was before he developed his exaggerated, angular style that is the trademark of the typical Bellamy eagle.
And finally, the paint. This eagle was originally covered with gold leaf. Much of it remains, but there is a lot of wear. I had to match the dark, grungy wood underneath the gold leaf first, then cover over that with new gold leaf and wear it back to match the rest. The top of the head was worn the most from direct sun, and the beak is on the same orientation, so I matched to beak to that area. A pretty good match.
Finally, the most challenging repair.
What makes this a challenge is that their is no paint. The finish is aged or stained wood. That’s always the toughest finish to match. Because this is one of Bellamy’s later eagles, with his iconic style fully developed, their are plenty of examples to use to figure out what is missing. I have a half-dozen templates taken from actual eagles and found one that fit this eagle exactly.
To begin, I made a template of the missing wing from one of my patterns. I then laid the damaged eagle on top of the template and scribed around the broken wing. This gave me an exact template for the missing piece.
Tougher than matching the look on the front of the eagle, the back is just oxidized wood. I always keep on hand pieces of old wood for these types of repairs. As you will see later, I was very lucky to find a piece that matched almost perfectly. Here is the new piece of wing from that old wood.
I beveled the wing piece and the back of the eagle for form an overlapping scarf joint, then glued and clamped them together.
Then carved the feathers.
Finally, dying it to match. It came out a little dark. The old wood sucked in the dye like a sponge. After the ultraviolet light fades the dye, and the eagle collects more grime from age, it should be an invisible repair from the front.
The back matches amazingly well.
Very good, thank you. When you repair an orginal like this what does it do to the value? On the antique tv show (American Road Show?) they always tell people not to mess with stuff.
John, repairs don’t hurt the value. Restoring or repainting/refinishing would hurt the value. But being damaged already affected the value. Repairing the eagles made them more attractive and may have actually increased their value.
I see that you haven’t posted recently, and I hope that’s just due to being too busy to keep up with it. I found your work to be very informative. thanks for sharing.
Hello, my name is randy slavich and I have a family heirloom that needs repairing. It is a nameplate for the roof of my oyster boat! My uncle carved it years ago and the weather rotted out some pieces of it! After Katrina hit I could find most of the pieces except for one wing. I have some pictures of it assembled in part , if you are interested in repair it as one of your projects I would love that! It is a one of a kind!! I will send you pictures if you respond with an e mail or phone number to send The pictures. Thanks randy , ps I really think you will love this as a project and you will be impressed with it’s carvings ! I anxiously await your response! RS