Bellamy Eagles

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John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914) was America’s most prolific and well known woodcarver whose work ranged from Masonic picture frames to newel posts for homes and ship carving work. The wooden eagle you see above was carved by Bellamy sometime between 1872 and 1907 in his Kittery Maine workshop. The slogan on the banner translates into "While We Live, Let Us Live" and is taken as an epicurean admonishment to enjoy life while you can. Traditionally it also serves as the motto for the Porcellian Club at Harvard University. 

Bellamy’s flat-backed, carved wooden eagles are some of the most easily recognized and admired pieces of American wooden folk art. My hand-cast, sterling silver pins are replicas of this highly sought-after, carved eagle design.



 Hand cast in small quantities from .925 Sterling silver. 


Actual size of the Bellamy pin is approximately 2 7/16" long. 

Weight: 12.5 grams                                        



I grew up in the Southern seacoast town of York, just a few miles from Bellamy's home in Kittery, Maine. In this part of New England, every woodcarver worth his salt has carved wooden eagles that look like John Haley Bellamy’s work and I am no exception. Some of my first carved, Bellamy style eagles had a 36 inch wingspan. I started carving them smaller and smaller and ended up with one that was just 3 inches long. I liked it so much that I painted and then applied 23K gold leaf to it. I decided to make an even smaller eagle but this time I hand carved it out of hard wax specially formulated for precision, high definition jewelers work. The perfect material to use for this small scale, high resolution detail work.

This carved wax eagle ended up being 2 3/8” long. The lost wax process of hand casting precious metals was employed to achieve the exquisite detail demanded by the design. The banner added another quarter inch to it's length. The casting and hand finishing of these pieces are done by artisans here in Maine using fresh, casting grain sterling silver and jeweler's bronze. Jeweler's bronze is a special alloy used by jewelers to replicate gold but at a substantially lower cost.

The quality and detail of these fine, collectable pieces of American Folk Art can be directly attributed to the time tested designs of John Haley Bellamy and many years of experience in the traditional artisan endeavors of woodcarving and lost wax casting.

Designs copyright l99l Michael A Dow


How they are made

·    Specially formulated hard wax is sculptured into a model. The type of wax used for this purpose has been preferred by master carvers and sculptors for many years because it can be sawed, filed or carved, will stand rough handling and will not soften in the hands.

·    The caster prepares the wax model, submerges it in plaster and the plaster hardens

·    The hardened plaster is baked in an oven and the wax is burnt off leaving a cavity in the plaster that looks exactly like the wax model.

·    Molten metal is run into that cavity, sometimes using centrifugal force. After it hardens the plaster is broken away leaving the metal master casting. It is an exact replica of the original wax model. If you are only making one piece of art, the process ends here with the final cleaning and polishing.

 Want more than one? The process continues and another mold is made.

A special rubber material is used to make a mold using the metal master. When the rubber has hardened, it is carefully cut into separate top and bottom pieces with a small, sharp blade and the metal master is removed leaving an exact impression. During this cutting process, this reusable mold is indexed so that the top and bottom fit back together exactly the same way every time.

·   The top and bottom of the rubber mold are gently pressed together and hot, liquid wax is squirted into the cavity inside the mold under pressure.

·   After a short cooling period, out pops an exact orange casting wax replica of the original artwork. Numerous wax replicas can be made fairly quickly in this way. These rubber molds last a long time. The one used for my Bellamy Eagle art pieces was made in 1991!

·    There are ways to assemble numerous orange casting wax models so multiple pieces can be cast at one time. Or, one at a time can be cast. Either way, the wax models are submerged in plaster and the plaster hardens. The hardened plaster is baked in an oven and the wax models are burnt off leaving a cavity in the plaster that looks exactly like the multiple wax models.

·    Molten precious metal is run into the cavity using centrifugal force. It hardens and the plaster is broken away to reveal the silver Bellamy eagle miniature art pieces.

·    Cleaning, attachment of any pin or clip "finding" followed by careful polishing and the piece is done. Sterling silver pieces are stamped on the back with the number .925. By definition and international agreement “Sterling” silver is 92.5% pure silver. Fresh casting grain Sterling silver is used exclusively for these pieces. The jeweler’s bronze pieces are made from a special alloy of copper and zinc made to resemble gold. 


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