The legacy of German immigrant Wilhelm Schimmel (1817-1890) rests in his wonderful pine, gesso and paint-decorated animals, which he carved in exchange for room and board from families around Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He fashioned lions, roosters, dogs and other figures, but his most successful sculptures are majestic spreadwing eagles. The example offered here is a monumental work, exceptional for its extremely rare large scale, crisp carving and elongated, delicate form. Using local pine, Schimmel carved the eagle’s body and wings separately, articulating them with angular, choppy feathers and joining them in the final construction. He primed his surface and added color and depth through red, brown, green and yellow paints that bring the bird to life.
A notorious figure in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Schimmel was memorialized in an obituary published in the Carlisle [Pennsylvania] Sentinel 7 August 1890: “Old Schimmel, the German who for many years trampled through this and adjoining counties, died at the almshouse on Sunday. His only occupation was carving heads of animals out of soft pinewood. He was apparently a man of very surly disposition.” For more information on Schimmel's life, see Karl H. Pass, "Wilhelm Schimmel: Cumberland County Image Maker (1817-1890)," Folk Art, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 52-59. His work is in the collections of multiple major museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Winterthur Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the New-York Historical Society.