It is with
great sadness to learn of the passing of Jack Whitehead - one of the greats in
the world of
ship's figurehead and maritime carving, of the 20th century. A shipcarver
whos carvings adorn some of the great tall ships of today.
didn't come into shipcarving in the time honored tradition of apprentiship
to a master. He approached it by accident...literally.
He was an
RAF aircraft fitter during World War 11 and had his hands badly damaged in a
accident when a propeller backfired. The doctors ordered that he take up some
occupation where the muscles in his hands would get constant use.
He took up
puppetry, designing and hand-carving his own, performing with them on
He became a
shipcarver when a friend on the Isle of Wight (Jack's Home), asked him to carve
a mermaid figurehead for a yacht he was building. After a photograph was
published in a British yachting magazine, inquiries started to flood in from
people who thought that figurehead carving was a lost art.
and restored numerous ships' figureheads since the War during his 40 years as a shipcarver,
they included a new figurehead for the Sir Winston
Churchill, replicas for the Nonsuch, the Golden Hind - Sir Francis Drake's
famous ship, the Malcolm Miller, the Royalist and of course the famous Warrior figurehead, from HMS Warrior now moored permanently
in Portsmouth, England.
massive Warrior replica figurehead (2 tons when finished - the biggest
job yet), for the
1860 - 418' HMS Warrior, was a collaboration between Jack and another
renowned shipcarver, Norman Gaches. which took them almost a year to
and Norman worked together on several projects over the years
splitting the work
and responsibilities, culminating in the carving of the Warrior
then commissioned to carve a replica figurehead for the Falls Of Clyde - The
only surviving fully-rigged, four masted sailing ship left in the world -
built in 1878 in Port Glasgow, Scotland. He went to Hawaii and spent
many a long month in the tropical sun completing the carving of a magnificent woman, which now
can be seen at the bow of this tall ship permanently moored in
Honolulu Harbor and now part of the Hawaii Maritime Center.
visited Jack some years ago at his home on the Isle of Wight. We talked at
lengths about his very interesting life as a figurehead carver and life
in general. He was a gentle and compassionate man, with a
welcome disposition, and had a marvelous philosophical outlook on life.
said at his funeral that 'Jack collected people'. People seemed
to gravitate towards him. All his many many friends can attest to
I was very privileged
to know him.