Thursday, July 31, 2014

Bellamy Eagles

Discover Portsmouth at 10 Middle Street, in the former Academy Building that served as Portsmouth Public Library, is holding an exhibit of wood carvings by John Haley Bellamy and other artists inspired by him. Called “Bold and Brash: The Art of John Haley Bellamy”, the exhibit is a rare collection of works by the artist famous for his decorative wall-hangings known as Bellamy Eagles.

John Haley Bellamy was born in the historic Pepperrell Mansion in Kittery on April 5, 1836. His father, Charles Gerrish Bellamy, was a building contractor who served as a Maine State Congressman from 1842-1843, and a State Senator from 1846-1847. Later, he became the Inspector of Timber at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He and his wife, Frances “Fanny” Keen Bellamy, had nine children, as well as two daughters from Frances' previous marriage.

John Haley Bellamy, their first child together, learned to carve as an apprentice to furniture-maker Samuel Dockham in Portsmouth, and as an employee of Laban Beecher, a famous and controversial ship's woodcarver, in Boston. By the late 1860s, Bellamy partnered with D.A. Titcomb of Boston and was selling carvings across the country to fraternal organizations like the Freemasons, Knights of Columbus, and the Civil War veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic.

During his lifetime, Bellamy's decorative pieces for ships and homes included figureheads, furniture, wall-hangings, and animal figures. He also held patents for six styles of intricately-carved clock cases.

He moved to Portsmouth during the winter of 1872-1873 and opened a wood-carving shop. Here was where he specialized in carved eagles like the ones exhibited at Discover Portsmouth. He became renowned for his “Bellamy Eagles”, yet never signed his works because he considered himself to be an ordinary, but skilled, woodcarver and not an artist.

In 1880, he was commissioned to carve a figurehead for the USS Lancaster, a Naval sloop-of-war, while she was undergoing repairs at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Bellamy was paid just $2.32 per day for his work. The resulting gilded eagle weighs 3,200 pounds and has an eighteen-foot wingspan. Considered to be Bellamy's finest work, the beautiful Lancaster Eagle is proudly displayed at The Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Bellamy died in Portsmouth on December 5, 1910, having outlived his parents and all of his brothers and sisters.

A Bellamy Eagle, or an eagle inspired by John Haley Bellamy, currently flies above the front door of Northeast Auctions in the Treadwell Jenness House. Another once adorned the front facade of the H.C. Hopkins & Company Dry Goods Store on Market Street, now home to the Portsmouth Brewery.

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