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Jack Whitehead

1913 -2002

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.

Jack 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 television.

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.

Jack carved 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 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 complete.

Jack and  Norman worked together on several projects over the years splitting the work and responsibilities,  culminating in the carving of the Warrior figurehead.

Jack was 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.

 

 

I 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.  

It was said at his funeral that  'Jack collected people'.  People seemed to gravitate towards him.  All his many many friends can attest to that.

  I was very privileged to know him.

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We will miss him.

 

 

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2002 Martin Jeffery