The story around “Henry Overboard"

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Don Briddell | 4 Comments

Henry Overboard limited edition sculpture front

"Henry" is Henry Singer who lived nearby on a farm. I got to know him because he raised a wide variety of ducks, swan and geese, and other exotic birds on his farm along with cows, goats, sheep, mules and hogs. Henry was—he passed on maybe seven to nine years ago—considered one of the real characters in these parts. On my visits, I would take my sketchbook to draw his birds. He enjoyed it that I liked his birds. It wasn't too long before I discovered Henry was more interesting than his birds. His wife had left him long ago before I knew him when, as Henry told it, she said to him, "Its the birds or me?" You guessed it; Henry chose the birds.

Henry was definitely all about his animals, but in a disarmingly charming and innocent way. He knew he was totally unfit for human co-habitation, but enjoyed those who would visit if they would not be critical of the way he lived. Each animal having a name is not so unusual on a farm, but considering them full-fledged members of his family, as if they were human, was unique. He was especially fond of a goat named "Nanny". They were inseparable. Henry drove Nanny around with him in his beaten up rust bucket truck as others drive their dogs. Interestingly, Henry did not have a dog. Nanny had the run of the farm but, as far as I could tell, had one restriction. She was not allowed to sit on his antique heirloom sofa. I asked him about the sofa, since it was the only thing in the house he attempted to protect. He said it was a family heirloom from his parent’s home.

Once I was visiting and he invited me into the kitchen. It was summer so he had taken the door off so his animals could come in without having to knock. I walked in and the goat Nanny was sitting comfortably on his couch. Henry was always excited when I came. Some how I being an artist made me a special guest in his eyes. Seating me at the kitchen table, he offered coffee. "Sure," I replied, without knowing the implications.

Henry sets about looking for a clean pot to boil water. Not finding one quite clean enough, he looked around in his tool box at the foot of the table and eventually found a piece of sandpaper and began sanding the inside of the pot. Next, he handed me a cup. It looked like it had never been washed. Unsuccessful in hiding my dismay, he quickly reached back in the toolbox until he found a suitably clean piece of 80 grit sandpaper. Handing it to me, he suggested with his eyes I use it to clean the cup. In view of the hardened coffee rings, it seemed like an appropriate solution. While I sanded the cup, he dumped out the coffee in a pan, added water and soon had the mixture bubbling happily. It was then he milked Nanny the goat and served the warm milk with the coffee. It was delicious!

The idea for "Henry Overboard" came when he reminisced about his youth growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, something we shared in common. He told me about an incident he had had while courting a girl. He was 18 and she was 17. He had taken her sailing in his skiff one Sunday when the skiff began leaking. Having forgotten to bring a scoop it soon became apparent the boat was going to sink. He knew the waters well, so he steered to where the water was shallow over a sandbar. He jumped in the water to lighten the boat in an attempt to keep the lady dry. She sat on the steer while the boat finished sinking up to the level depicted in the piece. With his feet barely touching bottom, he was able to walk the boat to shore without having the lady to swim. As he walked along in dead silence, he'd look back once in a while and saw that attempting a conversation with the woman would not be a good idea.

I got thinking about the story and asked him if he would sit for me so I could sculpt him around the sinking boat story. Henry thought that a great idea. I have always wanted to do the companion piece to Henry Overboard with the lady sitting in the stern.
Henry Overboard limited edition sculpture
I gave him the first edition of the sculpture. When Henry died his only relative, a lady cousin, called to say Henry had bequeathed the sculpture I had given him to the Carroll County Maryland historical society museum. The heir of his estate said she would only do this if I would do another edition of the piece so that she could give that piece to the museum and keep could keep the original, to which I agreed.

So that is the story of "Henry Overboard". Peace be unto that dear old man.

Posted in Collection, Limited Edition, New Product, Waterman

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4 Responses

Frank Battaglini
Frank Battaglini

September 08, 2023

I just happened to think of Henry Singer , Googled his name and the sculpture popped up . I was amazed to see it since the last time was probably 1992 . I had just started carving ducks , and would go to Henry’s to study his birds . He was my first inspiration to start carving. I was only a very young boy maybe Nine or ten ,when my father took me along to buy some peacocks and pheasants from Henry. We went into the kitchen and my dad was offered coffee probably with the same cup . I remember my father saying, “ No thank you , I don’t drink it “ ! Anyway Henry proceeded to show us a carving he was working on . I was amazed but never tried it till the early nineties. I brought my first carving to Henry to look at and critique, He was very kind , and gave me some pointers, He told me ,”if you carve a good head on your duck , You’ll be ok “ I brought him one a year later , He told me I got better and it had a damn good head , I still have those two ducks he looked at , and always hear those words when I look at them . I’ve since moved to Wyoming and am carving on a duck every day ! I’m so glad I found this today, He left an impression on me that will be with me forever. The man in that sculpture, looks exactly like him .
Thank you

Don Briddell
Don Briddell

December 26, 2019

Nice to hear from you. Henry was one of those people you can’t forget for all the right reasons! I love him dearly as did all his animals.

Priscilla DePetris
Priscilla DePetris

December 07, 2016

Mr. Singer was like an Uncle to us Hoyle kids that live across the road from us. I have many fond memories of him, his “wife” and his little dog Cuddles. I made a visit to him in 1999 when I came back from Hawaii, and he runs over to grab a Don Ho 8 Track tape to play. lol What an amazing man who lived an amazing life with his birds.

Joyce Hoyle
Joyce Hoyle

December 26, 2019

Very good sculpture of Henry. I lived across the road from Henry [Birdhaven] Farm. He lived on a diet of potato chips, soft peppermint candies. I used to go over there all of the time as a kid. I loved feeding his Japanese reindeer…through the fence mind you. He was almost killed by the male in rut. Yes the chickens and goats had full access to his house. Never owned a phone. He was not married to Kitty and she left him because he drove her crazy. I think he was Gaslighting her. She came to our house for help and never went back. Henry has a model ship in the Smithsonian. He gave my father two wood carvings, one is a goose in flight and the other is a pheasant. I have the pheasant and I gave the goose to my brother.
Now the driving around with the goat in the truck…..never saw that. The farm was sold to another local farmer and they are growing crops. The barn was torn down. I miss henry.

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