The First American Woodworker

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Since 1928, Woodcraft has been inspiring woodworkers with top quality tools, supplies and education. However, the first American woodworker—the Native American Indian—lived long before that. Woodcraft honors the Native Americans with the depiction of an Indian making a spear within its corporate logo and the registered tagline, “The First American Woodworker.” They also commissioned a life-sized sculpture in 1976 by the famed artist Armand LaMontagne of Rhode Island, which took more than a year to create. It was first on exhibit in 1978 to commemorate Woodcraft’s 50th anniversary and was on the cover of the Spring/Summer 1978 Woodcraft catalog

LaMontagne is well-known for his life-sized replicas of such notables as George Patton, Abraham Lincoln, Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Carl Yastrzemski. His sculpture of Babe Ruth is displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He also carved a wooden bust for bronze casting of former president Gerald Ford.

Carving a History

The entire body of the Woodcraft Indian, including the stump on which he crouches, was carved from one piece of pine, originally 48" in diameter and 5' tall, weighing 700 pounds. LaMontagne used a chain saw to rough out the human form. Preliminary studies of the subject were drawn life size to aid in roughing out the block. The stump was hollowed out, which reduced the weight to about 200 pounds. LaMontagne typically hollows out large sections inside his carvings and leaves them unfinished. This allows the moisture content in the wood to equalize as well as reducing the weight of the finished piece.

The sculpture is meticulously detailed, from the wrinkles in the Indian’s face to the veins in his arms, his braided hair, and the shoes that look like worn leather. Even the bark on the pine stump was carved to simulate oak. The stick, feathers and knife were carved later as separate pieces of wood. Much of the detailing was added with the help of a live model, Joe Avarista, who was also LaMontagne’s apprentice for nine years.  

The Indian's stick, feathers and knife were carved separately. 
The sculpture is meticulously detailed, down to the Indian's fingernails.

After carving was complete, the piece was dried in a heated steel chamber for seven days at 300 degrees, where it lost 40 percent of its weight. Final touches were added, and the Indian was finished with oil-based dye and flat varnish.

The Indian’s Journey

The Indian has done a bit of traveling and has sustained a few injuries in his 40+ years. For the first two decades, he resided at the Woodcraft corporate headquarters, which was located in Woburn, Mass., at that time. In the late ’70s, a development group was excavating a nearby industrial park, during which time there was substantial blasting. One such blasting episode, fortunately on a weekend, caused a rock to come flying through the roof, the ceiling and onto the Indian, resulting in a severed hand and a broken leg. LaMontagne came to the rescue, reattaching the hand and placing a metal rod through the center of the broken leg to repair it. All that remains visible is a slight crack at the mend from the seasoning of the wood. In 1988, the Indian’s knife mysteriously disappeared. Once again, Montagne came to the aid of Woodcraft and carved a replacement. When Woodcraft moved its corporate offices in 1992 to Parkersburg, West Virginia, the Indian was also relocated. Since then, the carving has been on display there, though he was taken to the Parkersburg Woodcraft store a few miles away for a short time in 2006 to allow customers the chance to view this museum-quality sculpture. 

The Woodcraft Indian was never meant to be a caricature, but rather an accurate representation in honor and reverence of the true first American woodworker, the Native American Indian. As we continue to supply a wide array of tools and supplies to woodworkers going into our ninth decade of business, this life-sized sculpture represents the tradition of quality, service and reliability that is a way of life for all of Woodcraft. It is made possible because of the exceptional skills of LaMontagne. 


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