National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Figurehead Figurehead
Rendered by American 20th Century (artist), 1935/1942
watercolor, graphite, and gouache on paper
overall: 54.4 x 35.3 cm (21 7/16 x 13 7/8 in.)
Index of American Design
Not on View
From the Tour: Woodcarving from the Index of American Design
Object 1 of 26

American figurehead carvers were famous for their work, which flourished from colonial times until the late nineteenth century. Aside from figureheads, these versatile craftsmen also produced sternboards, gangway boards, billetheads, and other wooden decorative carvings for ships. Almost every class of ship, from steamboats to whalers to clipper ships, came to be ornamented with carving. There was great variety among American figureheads, but this example represents the most characteristic type: a full-length female figure, seeming to step forward as she gazes out to the sea, the drapery of her gown apparently windblown. This figurehead, from the sailing ship White Lady, is one of the best surviving examples. It is attributed to Charles G. Sampson, of Bath, Maine, and was carved about 1870. The carving of the drapery is quite exuberant but consistent with the shape of the figure. As a practical measure, the grooves are deliberately slanted to shed water. The bent forearm is fashioned from a separate piece of wood but is kept close to the body, retaining the compactness of the whole.

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