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Americana: Eagles in American Folk Art



Photo from Sotheby's Auction House. Sculptural Fantasy: The Important American Folk Art Collection of Stephen and Petra Levin October 2019 Fetched 87,500 in New York.

This remarkable American eagle stands as one of the supreme masterpieces of John Haley Bellamy's oeuvre. James Craig stated the following: "It is an extremely rare bird. It is the only known example of this particular type of eagle that Bellamy crafted which is still in existence. A far more complicated piece than his usual two-foot eagles. He probably made only a few dozen of these, at the most, throughout the entirely of his career. Having studied this piece firsthand extensively, I can tell you that it is 100% Bellamy's handiwork with no other hands present, save for the possible exception of an apprentice who did the initial outline cuts on the blocks of wood that eventually became this piece. It is a first-rate creation." Provenance: Hyland Granby Antiques, Hyannis, Massachusetts.

Literature Yvonne Brault Smith, John Haley Bellamy Carver of Eagles (Portsmouth Marine Society, Publication 1, 1982), p. 36; William L. Hamilton, "For Antiques An Anxious Season," The New York Times, November 8, 2001, p. D1; The Catalogue of Antiques & Fine Art, Vol. 111, No. 1, January 2002 (cover); Deborah Harding, Stars and Strips, (New York: Rizzoli, 2002), pp. frontispiece, 208-9;  James A. Craig, American Eagle: The Bold Art and Brash Life of John Haley Bellamy (Portsmouth, NH: Portsmouth Marine Society, Publication Number 34, 2014), pp. 84-85, figs. 6.9-6.11.


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OUR NATIONAL BIRD, the American bald eagle, took flight in popular culture and decorative arts in the earliest days of the young Republic, enjoying a profusion of interpretations in the hands of idealistic American folk artists. As noted by Paul D'Ambrosio, Chief Curator of the New York State Historical Society, "American folk artists looked to the values and ideals of the new nation to provide an identity larger than themselves or their communities. These artists absorbed the popular symbols of the day--most notably the bald eagle--and remade them into personalized expressions of a collective consciousness." Though many of these craftsmen are unknown to us today, their accomplishments are recognized by collectors and connoisseurs for their artistic appeal and patriotic message.

Article by Deborah Harding Antiques and Fine Art Magazine

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