Augustus Wilson, known as Gus to his friends and neighbors, was an eccentric Maine boat builder, fisherman, and woodcarver, who also worked as a lighthouse keeper at Spring Point Light in South Portland, Maine from 1917 to 1934. This occupation left him with many free hours in which to whittle. He is best known for his imaginative decoys of mergansers, scoters, elders, and other sea ducks, many with turned or otherwise animated head positions. Besides carving the aquatic birds that lived near his home, which he sold to hunters throughout his adult life, he also carved life-sized standing songbirds, seagulls, and flying ducks with outspread wings, all of which were intended as household decorations. He roughed out the blocks of wood he carved with a hatchet, chisel, and hand plane, then whittled them into forms he invented as he went along with his Boy Scout pocket knife (once sculpting a large rattlesnake, which he subsequently nailed to his garage roof), and finishing them off with a coat of ready-at-hand automotive or boat paint.
This is the largest of three big standing tigers that Wilson was inspired to create after seeing newspaper photos of Emyr, a massive tiger brought to Portland, Maine by the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1931. The noted sculptor and folk art collector Robert Laurent originally acquired all three tigers from Wilson.
This commanding beast, which is arguably Wilson's masterpiece, carved from salvaged railroad ties and telephone poles kept in the artist's barn, is the last of the three to remain in private hands. The other two (fig. 1) were exhibited at the American Folk Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1980s and are now in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum (acc. nos. 1999.26.1 and 1999.26.2).