Frank W. Mish Jr.’s bald eagles carvings inspire the feelings of Independence Day

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In celebration of Independence Day, we hope that you enjoy these sculptures in our collection.

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Frank W. Mish, Jr. (1900–1982)
Large Eagle and Flag Plaque; Small Eagle Plaque (America); Small Eagle Plaque (Liberty); Standing Eagle Plaque, ca. 1950s–70s
Acrylic paint and wood
8.75″H X 8″W X 9.75″D each
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of the artist, A1930,77.0417; .0442; .0493; .0497

Frank W. Mish, Jr. found inspiration from many sources to create simple carvings that possess strong character. Often, he utilized wood, penknives, and paint to achieve understated coloristic and textural effects in his sculptures. As is the case with much folk art, the appeal of Mish’s bald eagle carvings stems directly from their immediacy, simplicity and expressive vigor. When viewed together, the artist’s fascination with these iconic birds is clearly conveyed. While some examples highlight the beauty and cleanness of pure, modestly carved wood, others subtly reveal the patterns and colors of the birds’ feathers and anatomical features. This patriotic series of sculptures and plaques celebrates the heritage and values of our country by incorporating the colors of the Star Spangled Banner and including words such as “America, “Liberty,” and “Justice.” The first example, which features flags, a shield, and cannon, draws upon the Great Seal of the United States and is also based on designs for Federal-era tavern signs from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Like many American folk artists, Mish began his career by emulating the work of the itinerant Pennsylvania German artist Wilhelm Schimmel (1817–1890), whose dynamic carvings of birds and animals are well known. Like his predecessor, Mish used a cross hatching technique to establish texture in his figurines through carved, intertwined incisions. In contrast to Schimmel, Mish employed bright paint and a broader range of subjects, ranging from birds and decoys to toy soldiers and mythical creatures. A native of Hagerstown, Maryland, Mish graduated from Mercersburg Academy, Pennsylvania, and studied art and ornithology at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.  After returning to Washington County, Maryland, he worked as treasurer of the Gateway Furniture Company and became interested in the art of woodcarving. For many years, Mish served on the board of the Washington County Historical Society. His wife, Mary Vernon, was a notable American historian, author, philanthropist, community activist, and amateur archaeologist.

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