Over the March break I had the opportunity to finish up a small project that was very special to me – restoring one of the carvings in the choir room of the New Chapel. There are a number of fanciful carvings adorning the tops of the bench ends in the choir practice room, all carved in 1930 by J. Gregory Wiggins, master carver, originator of the Form plaques, and former faculty member of SPS.
One of these carvings, a rooster located on the right side of the room on the back bench, had been damaged at the point where it was originally attached to the bench end. I found the rooster stored away among other School artifacts while looking for photographs for the archives, and discovered that the split piece had gone missing. I had remembered seeing it damaged in the choir room back in 2010 when I was researching Wiggins, and went back and looked at the photographs I took of his carvings, including this one below that shows the damaged section:
The photo below is of the carving, showing the damaged section of the base near the rooster’s back leg. In this picture I have cleaned up the rough edges of the break so that I can fit a new piece of wood to the base.
The restoration involved carving a small replacement piece – similar to creating the missing piece to a puzzle. I used a scrap of oak wood to match the original carving, and carefully carved the shape to fit into the break and match the profile of the carving. I used a number of carving tools, files, and special clamps to create this small carved piece.
Because this broken section originated at one of the original mounting holes I had to find an alternate way to re-attach the carving to the bench-end. On the bottom of the carving I cleaned out a recessed area and attached a small flush-mounted piece of hardware that allows for a screw head to slide into place, securing the carving flush to the top of the bench end.
Once I had carved the missing piece to fit the broken section I glued it in place. I made small adjustments to the fit and then stained and finished the replacement piece to match the surrounding wood. I cleaned up the carving and re-attached it to the bench end in the choir room, as shown in the photographs below:
One of the reasons this restoration project was special to me is that I felt it gave me the opportunity to give something back to J. Gregory Wiggins by repairing one of his carvings. I am much indebted to his work in originating the Form plaque tradition at SPS. It was also a pleasure to work so closely with one of his carvings and observe the details of his carving process as evidenced in his work. His carvings have taught me a lot about this project, and whenever I feel stuck or uncertain on how to proceed I ask myself – “what would Wiggins do?” – and I am able to find a solution in the legacy of his work.
A final note:
I came across a letter in the archives written to J. Gregory Wiggins from Samuel Smith Drury (Fourth Rector of SPS), dated May 15, 1930, in which Drury had this to say about the completion of the choir room carvings:
A special fund put at my disposal has enabled me to carry through the embellishment of the choir-room, and I am confidently happy in the thought that generations of young choristers will sing all the more lustily, when they look at the triumphant rooster . . .
And happily, now they can continue to do so.