drawing of Wendell Gilley

About the museum

wendell gilley museum logo

Our Mission

The Wendell Gilley Museum inspires artistic creativity and engagement with the natural world on Mount Desert Island and Downeast Maine for current and future generations through education, exhibitions, and programs, while honoring the legacy of noted bird carver Wendell Gilley.

Wendell Gilley

Wendell Gilley is a name well known among carvers and carving collectors. Author of The Art of Bird Carving: A Guide to a Fascinating Hobby, one of the earliest instructional books on the subject, Gilley was a pioneer in the field of decorative bird carving. By his estimate, he created “ten thousand birds of pine and paint” between 1931 and 1983. (Gilley also loved alliteration; it should be noted that most of his carvings were made of basswood.)

Early years

Before gaining renown as a master carver, Gilley was best known around his hometown of Southwest Harbor, Maine as a master plumber.

A new calling

In 1930, Gilley visited the New England Museum of Natural History in Boston.


The museum idea was supported by many others, however, and late in 1979 the Wendell Gilley Museum of Bird Carving was incorporated as a non-profit organization by public-spirited individuals who sought to ensure the preservation of Wendell Gilley’s unique contribution to American heritage.

Our building

The Wendell Gilley Museum was designed by architect Roc Caivano and engineered by Harris Hyman.

Our heat system

The problem of climate control in a multi-use public facility has been approached with a multilevel system of solar, wood, electric and oil heat sources coupled with heavy insulation and tight construction.


Solar energy fulfills almost half of the Museum’s heating requirements.


During cold winter months, the solar heating system is supplemented by wood heat from the Finnish fireplace in the main gallery.


Electric heat backs up the solar and wood heat.


In 1988 the Museum added the Gilley Workshop Wing to the east side of the original structure.

wooden bird carvings