Wendell Gilley is a name well known among carvers and carving collectors. Author of The Art of Bird Carving: A Guide to a Fascinating Hobby, one of the earliest instructional books on the subject, Gilley was a pioneer in the field of decorative bird carving. By his estimate, he created “ten thousand birds of pine and paint” between 1931 and 1983. (Gilley also loved alliteration; it should be noted that most of his carvings were made of basswood.)
Before gaining renown as a master carver, Gilley was best known around his hometown of Southwest Harbor, Maine as a master plumber. Following his grandfather and father into the trade, from 1927 to 1954 Gilley earned his living fixing oil burners, thawing frozen pipes, making tanks for boats and tending to Mount Desert Islanders’ other plumbing needs. He was an early proponent of the “buy local” philosophy. He recounted how during the winter months he would be called out of bed to service a broken furnace. Late one night, a resident who had tried to save a few dollars by buying his furnace from Sears instead of from Gilley Plumbing called the Gilley home. Wendell Gilley curtly suggested that he call “Mr. Roebuck” instead.
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