Bald eagle sightings are becoming more common in North County these days. And, the Webster family of White Hall can glance outside any day to spot a fine-feathered beauty.
The eagle they see is 10 feet high and wears a Boy Scout's Eagle badge on its breast. Howard and Eileen Webster hired Jim Calder Jr., of Chesapeake, Va., to carve the eagle in a tree trunk to honor their 19-year-old son, Patrick. He earned his Eagle Scout rank with Boy Scout Troop 497 in March 2010.
Howard Webster contacted Calder, 63, after he saw him create an eagle with a fish in its talons out of a red oak on Cub Hill Road.
"I drive that road every day, and every day, I saw the eagle take shape," Howard Webster said. "I knew I wanted one for Patrick."
He emailed Calder a photo of a tree in his backyard that inexplicably broke in half this summer. The remaining trunk gave Calder a natural work space to attack with chain saws, chisels, gouges and mallets.
"I do about 30 carvings a year, and if I stopped taking commissions now, I'd be busy for the next two years," said Calder as he climbed the scaffolding next to the tree. "I moved this one up on my list when I found out it was for their son."
In case the carving's owners move, Calder likes to leave the base of the tree in its natural state. That way, they can cut the tree down and take it with them, he said, something many of his clients have done.
Although he made a sketch of the Webster eagle, Calder worked by instinct. He normally carves eights hours a day, finishing most jobs in a week.
"I'll work seven days a week," he said. "If the job is near a street, I'll spend as much time on the ground talking with people who stop by as I do on the scaffolding. I'm doing what I love to do, and that's what counts."
"It's a pretty neat thing to have in your backyard," he said.
Calder, a 1967 graduate of Perry Hall High School, was 7 when he learned to carve from a neighbor who made furniture in a barn. Calder started whittling figures out of chunks of wood, and by 16, had won an international pipe-carving competition in France.
After serving in Vietnam, Calder attended Harvard and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went to work for Digital Equipment Corp. as an engineer. In 1981, he left Digital Equipment to carve full time.
He said artistic talent runs in his family. His ancestors include Alexander M. Calder, who created the 37-foot-tall bronze statue of William Penn that tops Philadelphia's City Hall; and Alexander Calder, famous for mobiles and outdoor sculptures that can be found worldwide.
Early in his career, Calder taught children to carve a wizard face into a sweet potato.
These days, Calder's commissions range from $5,000 for a carved eagle or bear, to $200,000 for a 40-foot totem pole. Most of his clients are homeowners like the Websters who want something special on their properties.
Calder just published "So You Thought You Couldn't Cut It — A Beginner's Guide to Wood Carving." All proceeds go to The Young Voices Foundation, which assisted Calder in publishing the book.
The book can be ordered at Calder's website, http://www.carves4u.com.