Ship carvers

DEFINITION

Men who carved, usually in wood, decorative items for ships, including figureheads, furniture and architectural features. Their skills were most in demand in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when America was beginning to build its fleet of sailing vessels and forming its Navy. In the last quarter of the 18th Century, Boston and Philadelphia were rivals in this activity and a number of Ship Carvers worked there, producing a wide variety of work. Many of the early figureheads were allegorical with names such as Harmony, America, Minerva or referenced heroes in history such as Julius Caesar or Hannibal. However, by the early 19th Century, the trend shifted from Baroque, allegorical figures to less dramatic-appearing subjects including realistic portraiture such as Presidents George Washington and John Adams. William Rush of Philadelphia was one of the most famous Ship Carvers and for fifty years, oversaw a woodcarving shop in Philadelphia. Other Ship Carvers were Samuel McIntire, the Skillin brothers, John and Simeon Jr., and Samuel; John Brown, William Dearing and Daniel Train. (See Figureheads) Source: Ralph Sessions, 'William Rush and the American Figurehead', "The Magazine Antiques", Fall, 2005, pp. 148-153 (LPD)

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