An Artist with an Old Soul

Sandwich woodcarver preserves longstanding tradition

Text and Photography by Linda Maria Steele

Today, quality craftsmanship with attention to detail seems to be a thing of the past—but not in Paul White’s woodcarving studio. Here, you can watch White create hand-carved eagles for which he has gained an international reputation.

White has been carving in the traditional way, using chisels and mallets, for nearly 50 years. As I listened to him recount fascinating stories about family, Cape Cod and artistry in his Sandwich studio—a charming 2,000-square-foot space attached to his Route 6A home—I sensed his deep-rooted passion.

Five years out of college and working as a builder, White stopped into a sign shop in Yarmouth. There, he met sculptor David Holmes, and his love affair with woodworking began. “I bought an X-Acto knife on my way home and started to carve out my first piece,” says White, adding that he initially knew nothing about woodcarving. By reading about the craft, he learned about the physical aspect of woodcarving, the tools and gold-leaf lettering. But ultimately, he says, “I learned a lot from doing.”

The art of fine woodcarving requires remarkable patience and respect for the craft. And, White says, “your tools must be sharp.” I teach students the basics of woodcarving, but they have to go home and be willing to practice.”

What began as a hobby soon developed into a full-time occupation, due in part to his need to make a living and his willingness to practice. His work, which ranges from small signs for homes to large commercial signs, is found in museums, private collections and businesses.

He hand-carves his eagles using a variety of wood and meticulously finishes them with quality paints and 23-karat gold. His designs, he explains, are inspired by the traditional eagles that have adorned residential and commercial buildings for centuries. The majority of his commissions are for two-dimension eagles.

White has been offering carving courses for nearly 40 years and has taught thousands of students, mainly at his Sandwich shop, but also all over North America. He explains that those who excel at the craft are, as he was in the beginning, diligent about practicing.

A woman recently traveled all the way from New Zealand to Cape Cod to study under White. Reflecting on the visit, White expresses the “unique joy that comes from teaching and sharing one’s passion with others.” He welcomes apprentices, such as Dan Farrington, a young man who worked alongside him for more than a year.

The national emblem of the United States, the bald eagle, offers a complex experience for woodcarvers. In 1994, Schiffer published “Carving an American Eagle with Paul White,” a book with text and photography by Douglas Congdon-Martin, in which White takes the reader through the process of carving a large, traditional bald eagle. He explains each step in detail and includes a picture drawn to scale.

When not in his woodworking studio, White enjoys traveling with his wife and children, and sailing. “The water is where I really belong,” says White. He expresses his greatest hope: that his apprentices carry on the tradition of quality woodcarving into which he has poured his heart and soul.

Paul White Woodcarving, 295 Route 6A, East Sandwich, paulwhitewoodcarving.com

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