Peg Leg Pete 2023

Below is the article posted in today’s News Leader

 

A 16-year-old wood carver, group of pirates, landscaping company, art gallery and high school students are coming together to craft a new statue of a pirate that stands at Front Street and Centre Street, known locally as Peg Leg Pete.

Peg Leg Pete has been standing tall in the downtown historic district for nearly 50 years and is one of the most photographed fixtures of all of Amelia Island. All day long smiling children take pictures with the statue of the pirate at Front and Centre streets, creating memories of Fernandina Beach that will last longer than Pete has been standing. But even wooden pirates can only withstand the elements for so long.

Fernandina Pirates Club are the stewards of Peg Leg Pete, said club president Joe Brown, and they recognized recently that Pete is of retirement age. The group wanted new Pete to be made of wood since the original is.

Brown said it was a stroke of luck that a Fernandina Pirates Club member “stumbled upon a young man carving wood” at the downtown farmers market. The club commissioned a three-foot tall mockup of Pete and loved it. Jett Paxton loved that he got to do it.

“I haven’t lived here my whole life, but I visited for 10 years, and I always took pictures with Peg Leg Pete,” Paxton said. “I always love taking pictures with him, so when they asked me to carve it, it was just like a childhood dream.”

The artist made his first woodcarving just a few years ago when his family moved from Louisiana to nearby Georgia on a wooded property. The move came during the pandemic, and Paxton is homeschooled, so he needed to find something to do with his time. Origami got repetitive, but Paxton could whittle whatever he wanted from a chunk of tree from his backyard. The Paxton family moved to Amelia Island when the artist’s father opened a business. 

Paxton kept advancing his hobby and needed to repay his parents for the initial set of chisels they bought him. He opened a booth at the weekly downtown farmers market, where he sells his artwork and does live carvings.

The community has come together around Paxton to support the project. Finding a log of the right type of wood as big as Pete and for a reasonable price was a challenge until a friend offered a maple tree on his property. There was still the problem of harvesting the tree until another friend, Kevin Law, owner of local landscaping company Dirtmaxx, offered to cut down the tree and give Paxton a space to carve it.

At eight feet tall and three feet wide, Pete is the biggest thing Paxton has ever carved. 

Pete was Paxton’s first project done with a chainsaw.

“It’s so powerful and so shaky that a lot of times you don’t get finer details.” Paxton said. “That’s why I did all the fine details with the chisel, because at the end of it, I was like, I can’t risk chopping off the head.”

Paxton said he put in 20-30 hours a week for more than a month to finish the statue. Using the chainsaw was a lot of fun, he said, adding that he also likes the final challenge of using fine tools to carve fine details in old, weathered faces like Pete’s.

“It’s not like an octopus, jellyfish or owl, where we don’t see every single day, so the image of them is not always stuck in our brain. But a face, you have to be very precise because, if you’re not, people see it every day and they’ll notice the little differences.”

Paxton said he prefers to use cottonwood bark for his carvings because there are differences from log to log so “you can never make the same piece.” Cottonwood bark is also soft and dusty, Paxton said. “Sometimes a nose will break or an eye will fall out, but that just keeps the artist on his toes,” he said.

Once Paxton carved Pete, the Fernandina Pirates Club asked Julie Delfs, who owns an art gallery, if she could put together a team of high schoolers and local artists to paint the new statue.

For now, the new and brightly painted Pete will stay at Julie Delfs Gallery on Fourth Street until the Pirates Club and city of Fernandina Beach work together on a base for the statue. Brown said the new statue’s dedication would most likely happen after the new year.

Old Peg Leg Pete is about 50 years old. In that many years from now, Paxton will be 66 and maybe he’ll stay in Fernandina Beach or maybe he’ll have carved a life for himself somewhere else. Peg Leg Pete will be on Centre Street. 

srosenthal@fbnewsleader.com

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