Posts Tagged With: J. Gregory Wiggins

Rooster Redux

rooster_restoredI just came across a letter in the SPS archives collection about the rooster carving I repaired this spring. The letter was part of a larger collection of papers newly acquired by the archives.  It was written by carver John Gregory Wiggins to Henry Crocker Kittredge and is dated February 12th, 1939.  Kittredge was at that time the sitting Rector of SPS, following the death of Samuel Smitth Drury, Fourth Rector, and in 1947 would become the Sixth Rector of SPS. Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Dear Henry:

I’ve just shipped off a rooster to you. The last one was broken and sent me by SSD [Samuel Smith Drury]. He’s a finial for the choir room.  I’ve left the extra base on for ease in packing. These finials were all put on the pew ends by SPS labor, and the staining was done the same way. So I guess there’ll be no trouble about that. This is a ruggeder rooster and ought to stand up to ordinary wear + tare [sp.].”

This indicates that the rooster carving that is now located in the Choir Room is not the original one carved in 1930, but the replacement carved in 1939.  It is also interesting to learn from this letter that the mounting and staining was done  by workers at the School to match the finish on the pews – it explains the sort of rough way the rooster was attached to the pew end, which likely led to the split in the base.

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Choir Room Carving: The Triumphant Rooster

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.

Read the update to this article by clicking HERE.

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Carving History

The most recent edition of the SPS Alumni magazine, the Alumni Horae, includes an in-depth article on the history of Form plaques at SPS.  Expertly written by Jana Brown, it includes information on how the tradition of the plaques began, a look at the first carver, J. Gregory Wiggins, and details of how the tradition is being carried on today.

Click the thumbnail to read the article:

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