Wood crafts in the Outer Battery

St. John’s man follows uncle’s footsteps with carvings

Published on July 30, 2011
Carl Pearcey stands beside a wood-carved fire truck he made and donated to the Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association for a ticket draw. Next to the fire truck is a boat made by his late uncle, Robert Pearcey. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

The Pearcey’s Twine Store in the Outer Battery is filled with a treasure trove of artifacts reflecting the Pearcey family’s involvement in the fishery, which spanned four generations.

That involvement is given a unique perspective through the wood carvings on display made by the late Robert Pearcey, the uncle of Charles and Carl Pearcey, two brothers living in St. John’s who look after the property.

There are several large boats on display, a mobile hanging from the ceiling with carvings of planes attached to it and boats on the top, horses drawing carriages, and a particularly impressive scene depicting Pearcey Twine Store and its longtime neighbour, Jack Well’s Twine Shop, each standing side-by-side with stages hovering above the harbour.

Carl Pearcey said his uncle used tools that are primitive compared to what wood-carving hobbyists use today. He would know a thing or two about this, as Carl himself picked up wood carving several years ago.

“When I retired I started to buy a few tools and then I got into it as a hobby,” said the 72-year-old Pearcey, standing inside the well-kept building.

He specializes in making cars and trucks, which he usually gives to children like his grandson.

Recently, he donated a wooden fire truck to the Outer Battery Neighbourhood Association for a fundraiser, and 110 raffle tickets were sold.

Carl Pearcey set up a workshop in his basement where he practises his hobby while listening to old-time music on the radio.

In comparison, he said Uncle Bob did his wood carving in the kitchen, to the general annoyance of his wife, Lilian Pearcey.

“My aunt used to get mad with him because of the (wood) shavings,” Carl said.

Robert Pearcey’s pieces show great attention to detail, with many small details included, and they are often colourful.

Carl said his uncle may have inherited his woodworking skills from grandfather Samuel Pearcey, who did carpentry work.

 “Like in most outports and with the older generation, they made their own things if they wanted something,” he said.

Carl’s own father, James Pearcey, never developed an interest in wood carving, though he may never have had an adequate opportunity to do so.

In 1959, when Carl was 19, an avalanche in the Outer Battery struck the Pearceys’ residence and killed James, his wife Ethel, and Carl’s grandmother, Francis Vincent. Carl, along with his bother and sister, managed to survive.

Robert Pearcey left the fishery in the 1970s, after which he and Charles Pearcey continued to look after the twine store. Robert built 18-foot boats there that he later sold. He died in 1996 at the age of 82.

The Pearcey brothers spent time fishing in their youth and would have represented a fifth generation of fishing Pearceys, but Carl said his father wanted a different life for them. He eventually found work with Newfoundland Telephone.

Carl said it was his brother Charles who deserves much of the credit for keeping the property in good shape. It was built in 1956 to replace an older structure.

“He spends a lot of time out here,” Carl said of his older brother.

It also attracts visitors every year. This summer’s guest book, filled with positive comments, includes the signatures of visitors from as far away as France.

“People come in here and they’re amazed at it,” said Carl.