Bob Spear, The Carver

Bob Spear, the Carver BOVM Home Page

Bob Spear (1920-2014): Carver and more

Bob Spear was not just the Founding Director of the Birds of Vermont Museum and bird carver. He had many roles throughout his life, and even as others began to carry forward his Museum dream, he remained involved. Into his 80s, he still cut, transported and stacked all the firewood used to heat his workshop. He mowed and maintained the trails on the 100 acres of property, providing access to a rich variety of habitats and animal species. Even his 90s, Bob assisted with the butterfly gardens, the large and small ponds, and the bird feeder area. He also carved, when he is not watching the birds in and around the feeders, ponds, meadows, and forest.

Bob’s passion was to use biologically accurate wood carvings to teach both kids and adults about the importance of birds and their role in the earth’s ecosystem. The Birds of Vermont Museum is the only facility in New England that uses woodcarvings as an educational tool in this way. Visitors observe birds, go birding, participate in citizen science activities, engage their own art, and some even take up woodcarving as well.

Family Biography

Bob Spear was born in 1920 in Burlington, Vermont. In his youth his parents encouraged him to explore the world of nature around him. His early years were spent in Massachusetts where his family moved when his mother was unable to find a teaching job in Vermont. (At the time, they would not hire married women as teachers.) She found work in Wyben, teaching in a one-room school house, and Bob was her student for 6 years. Bob drew and painted as a youngster and even learned to do taxidermy by age 12.

After his mother’s untimely death when Bob was just 14, the family moved back to Vermont to the family farm in Colchester. Here he continued his self-education as a naturalist, specializing in birds. Here too, at age 18, Bob carved his first birds modeled after a stray parakeet that flew into their shed. For the rest of his life, he carved, painted, and taught others about birds.

Naturalist and Author

With his patient manner and keenly observant eye, Bob Spear became one of the state’s most distinguished naturalists. After 10 years of farming, a tour in the U.S. Navy, and nearly 20 years as a technical specialist at General Electric in Burlington, Bob devoted his life to conservation and education. He founded Vermont’s first chapter of the National Audubon Society in 1962 and was also instrumental in the acquisition and creation of the Green Mountain Audubon Nature Center, which he directed for seven years. He was recipient of the 1966 Wildlife Conservation Award, given by the National Wildlife Federation “for outstanding contributions to the wise use and management of the nation’s natural resources.”

Spear is author of Birds of Vermont and in 1979 he received the Science Educator’s Award “for outstanding contributions to science education in Vermont.” In 2003 he was named a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Science, because of “outstanding contribution to the Arts, Humanities, Sciences, or Education.” In 2006, he received the Governor’s Heritage Award for Traditional Artist. In 2014, he received the Olga Hallack Award for Community Service from teh Town of Huntington, where the Museum resides.

Growing a Museum

After retiring as director of the Green Mountain Audubon Center, Bob tried to find an organization to display his growing collection of life-size carvings of Vermont birds. Not finding anyone with the space needed to house this huge project, he converted the barn next to his house, and in 1987 opened the Birds of Vermont Museum to membership and the public. The collection has grown to over 500 carvings of birds, with fewer than 50 birds needed to complete the project.

Continuing his role as educator, in the late 1990s Bob trained an apprentice, Ingrid Riga, who assisted in expanding the collection during the first part of the new century. He inspired other carvers, some of whom have had their work selected for the Museum’s exhibits.

Bob and his carvings using reference photos to plan the carving Bob Spear and the Least Bittern, others in progress Bob painting the Virginia Rail
Below are four published articles about Bob Spear, carver.
"Carver of Vermont Birds"
Vermont Life, Spring 1981
"Nature, Close at Hand"
Vermont Life, Summer 1995
"Cranking out the carvings at Vermont Bird Museum"
Natural New England, Winter 2003
"In This State: Bob Spear is the heart of the Birds of Vermont Museum"
VTDigger, November 17, 2013
900 Sherman Hollow Road, Huntington, VT 05462 ~~ (802) 434-2167 ~~ E-mail