North American Regional Decoy Traditions and Masters

Robert Shaw

Eider drake by Phineas Alexander

 

DOWNEAST MAINE hunters concentrated on the common cold-water sea ducks of the region, including eiders, scoters, red-breasted mergansers and old squaws. Eiders and scoters were hunted on shoals miles out in the ocean, and decoys for these birds had big, wide bodies with flat-bottoms designed to ride the rough North Atlantic swells. Heads were typically carved from a single piece of wood and inlet into the bodies. Mergansers and old squaws frequented calmer waters along the shorelines, and Maine carvers such as Orlando Sylvester "Oz" Bibber of South Harpswell (1882-1971) and George Huey of Friendship (1866-1947) crafted stylized decoys that captured these birds' long, low profiles. Bibber, who worked as a steamship engineer, added leather or horsehair crests to his hollow mergansers and sometimes inserted a plucked pin feather into the tails of his old squaws.

Maine's greatest carver, Augustus Aaron "Gus" Wilson (1864-1950), made his living as a lighthouse keeper and worked at stations up and down the Maine coast before settling in South Portland. Wherever he served, he spent much of his spare time whittling decoys as well as a wide variety of decorative carvings, including gulls, flying ducks, crows, songbirds, full- sized and miniature tigers and at least one snake. He shaped the heads of his birds in many imaginative preening and reaching positions, and often added such realistic touches as a carved mussel held in the open bill of an eider or scoter decoy. Wilson's best work is at once graceful and powerful, with a sculptural presence seldom achieved by other carvers.

NEW ENGLAND
The small but geographically diverse states of southern New England provided hunters with a wide variety of coastal and inland hunting possibilities. Diving ducks such as old squaws, whistlers, redheads, bluebills were common in the region's larger lakes, rivers and coastal bays, while freshwater marsh ducks such as mallards, pintails, black ducks, widgeon, and wood ducks frequented the calmer waters of smaller lakes, ponds and streams. Perhaps because New England hunting rigs were typically small, the region's decoys are exceptionally well crafted, with great attention to detail in both carving and painting. Indeed, southern New England may have produced more first quality decoys than any other region of the country. Massachusetts and Connecticut in particular were home to a number of the decoy's greatest artists, including such masters as Elmer Crowell, Joe Lincoln, Lothrop Holmes, Keyes Chadwick, Charles Hart, and Shang Wheeler.

George Boyd (1873-1941) of Seabrook, New Hampshire was a professional carver who made duck, goose and shorebird decoys as well as miniature birds of many different game species. His shorebirds were sold through the Iver Johnson sporting goods store in Boston in the early years of the twentieth century. Boyd also worked as a shoemaker and created a number of black duck and goose decoys with bodies of canvas tightly stretched and tacked over a wooden slat frame. All of Boyd's birds have distinctive, square head shapes, flattened at the crown, while his floaters have flat bottoms, rounded backs, and relatively long tails. He delineated crisp overall plumage outlines and then daubed in softer feathery patterns with repeated short strokes of his own handmade brushes.

Joseph Whiting Lincoln (1859-1938) was a life-long resident of Accord, Massachusetts, a small town south of Boston, where he made a living as a professional decoy carver and handyman. In addition to carving birds, he also worked as a shoemaker, upholsterer and clock repairman, and is said to have been prouder of his prize-winning dahlias than of his decoys. Lincoln carved decoys of virtually every species hunted in New England, including brant, geese, ducks and shorebirds, and also made many miniature decoys he called "toys." His birds are direct and deceptively simple, the work of a consummate Yankee craftsman who was able to capture the essentials of species form and plumage with a remarkable economy of means.

A gifted amateur carver and dedicated outdoorsman, Shang Wheeler (1872-1949) lived in Stratford, Connecticut at the mouth of the Housatonic River, and worked as manager of the Connecticut Oyster Farms in nearby Milford from 1912-46. Wheeler gunned over birds made by Albert Davids Laing (1811-1886) for many years and was strongly influenced by his work as well as that of Laing's neighbor, Benjamin Holmes (1843-1912). Laing codified a style of carving peculiar to Stratford, with hollow, two-piece bodies, protruding chests and varied head positions. Wheeler carried the Stratford style into the twentieth century, creating both working birds (including some with solid cork bodies and inset wooden tails) and fancier show birds intended solely for exhibition. (He took the Grand Prize at the first decoy show ever, held in 1923.)

NEW ENGLAND SHOREBIRDS
Curlew and yellowlegs by Fred Nichols
Massachusetts' thousand miles of winding and mostly sandy coast attracted many species of shorebirds, from curlews to tiny sandpipers. Yellowlegs, black-bellied plovers, and dowitchers were among the most commonly encountered species. Golden plovers and the long presumed extinct Eskimo curlew flew together over open ocean as they migrated south in late August. Gale-force Nor'easters sometimes blew immense flocks of these birds in over the outlying coasts of Cape Cod and Nantucket island and provided local gunners with a literal windfall of birds.

Shorebird hunters set out small groups of decoys and then hid behind a sedge grass blind or dune to await their prey. Many called the birds with tin snipe whistles or pursed lips. Shorebirds travel in closely packed flocks and their gregarious nature made them easy marks. The gullible little birds often circled over decoys again and again, allowing hunters multiple shots into the midst of the flock. Dozens or even hundreds of birds could be killed in a short time.

Massachusetts' craftsmen created a wider variety of shorebird species and forms than were produced in any other region, including lightweight birds balanced to rock in the sea breezes, birds with attached wings or detachable heads, and birds made of papier mache and cork. The carvers of many Massachusetts decoys have never been identified, but masters such as Charles W. Thomas, Joseph Lincoln, Elmer Crowell, George Boyd, Elisha Burr and Lothrop Holmes are well known to all shorebird connoisseurs.

Lothrop Holmes (1824-1899) came from a family of shipbuilders and made his living as a cemetery superintendent in Kingston, Massachusetts, on the state's South Shore, He is remembered today for his merganser and old squaw duck decoys and for his shorebirds. He was an avid gunner who apparently carved only for his own use, and surviving examples of his work are consequently rare. Holmes produced representations of three major shorebird species-yellowlegs, black-bellied plover and ruddy turnstone, the last a great rarity among New England shorebird carvings. Holmes was a masterful painter and the sinuous, stylized lines of his plumage paint patterns perfectly complement the flowing forms of his carvings.

A. ELMER CROWELL
Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) was one of the most versatile, prolific and consistent of all professional bird carvers. As a young man, he worked as a Canada goose by Elmer Crowellmarket gunner and cranberry farmer on his native Cape Cod. Crowell apparently carved a few decoys for his own use early on, although he strongly preferred to use live decoys, tamed birds tethered to deceive their wild kin. In 1900 Crowell was hired by Dr. John C. Phillips, a wealthy Boston physician, to manage his hunting camp at Wenham Lake, north of Boston. Crowell worked for Dr. Phillips for about ten years and while in his employment he sold a number of extraordinary one-of-a kind decoys and decorative carvings to Phillips and his influential friends. The fifty year-old Crowell turned to carving full-time in 1912, working out of a small shop outside his home in East Harwich, Massachusetts. Assisted by his son Cleon (1891-1961), Crowell turned out an unparalleled variety of high quality decoys, decorative carvings and miniatures before rheumatism forced his retirement in 1943.

Elmer Crowell's best work was done before 1925 and is unsurpassed for its combination of sculptural power and subtle brush work. Of special note is the preening goose decoy made for Cohasset businessman Harry V. Long in 1917, pictured above left . Long commissioned many pieces from Crowell over the years; this bird and its two companions, a standing spread-winged hisser and a second goose in decoy form with a twisting forward head, are arguably Crowell's supreme works. Crowell's paper pattern for the preening goose is in the collection of Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Massachusetts.

LONG ISLAND SHOREBIRDS
Long Island was a hunter's paradise in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The aptly named island juts 118 miles out into the Atlantic and teemed with migratory birds of all kinds. Its proximity to New York made it a favorite haunt of wealthy city sportsmen, who traveled by rail to shoot at its myriad resorts and private gunning clubs. Native gunners who lived off the land and knew it best supplied these city "sports" with decoys, boats and guide services. Long Island was also probably the earliest region in the country to be commercially hunted, and the demands of the game markets and restaurants of New York provided steady income to Long Island market hunters as early as the 1840s.

Unlike any other area of the country, shorebirds are Long Island's dominant decoy form. Curlews, black-bellied and golden plovers, yellowlegs, dowitchers, robin snipe and many other shorebird species frequented the marshes and beaches of Long Island's south shore in great numbers, and the birds were avidly hunted from the Great South Bay to Montauk Point. They were popular home fare all over Long Island and were also a staple of the game stands in New York's Fulton and Washington markets, where they were purchased by city restaurateurs.

Long Island was home to a number of the acknowledged masters of the shorebird decoy, including Obediah Verity, Bill Bowman, John Dilley and Thomas Gelston. Unfortunately, while their styles are well known, the exact identities of all four men remain shadowy and elusive. Verity (poss. 1813-1901) of Seaford, Long Island was a bayman, remembered by his neighbors as a lifelong bachelor who spent his days following the sea—hunting, oystering, clamming, fishing, and making decoys for himself and his friends. The Verity clan was extensive, and while this carver's name is known, he has not been positively identified among the six Obediah Veritys who lived in Seaford during the nineteenth century. Whichever one he was, he carved both ducks and shorebirds, all of which have full, rounded solid bodies, s-shaped wing contours, v-shaped primaries carved in low relief, and carved eyes. The backs of his plump shorebirds carry stippled daubs of paint which suggest the light and dark pattern of feathers.

Curlew by William BowmanOral tradition holds that Bill Bowman (poss. 1824-1906) was a cabinetmaker from Bangor, Maine who traveled to Lawrence, Long Island each summer to work as a market gunner and decoy maker. While he carved a few ducks, brant and geese, Bowman focused primarily on shorebirds, producing the full range of species hunted on Long Island in the late 1800s, including long-billed and Hudsonian curlews, black-bellied and golden plovers, dowitchers, yellowlegs, and ruddy turnstones. Bowman was a masterful observer, and he captured the contours of his subjects' faces and bodies more precisely than any other shorebird carver. Looking at a Bowman, one senses the bird's skull, skeleton and taut or relaxed muscles below the well-painted feathers. His best works rank among the finest bird portraits created by any American artist.

John Dilley is a cipher, little more than a name reportedly found on a single box of expertly carved and exquisitely painted shorebird decoys made in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. The box was also marked "Quogue," a town on Long Island's south shore, near Eastport. Since many other birds by the same hand have Long Island provenances, it is assumed that their maker worked nearby, but no more substantial proof exists. Whoever he was, Dilley painted a wider variety of seasonal plumage variations than any other shorebird craftsman. He painted dowitchers, for example, in breeding, eclipse and fall plumage, each rendered with meticulous attention to detail through hundreds of delicate brush strokes. A few of his birds are signed "Dilley" on the bottom and many carry species names as well. A few are stamped Squires, the name of a prominent New York sorting goods store that apparently sold Dilley's work. Dilley's paint is highly refined and skillfully controlled, the work of a master of the brush, while the forms he created as his canvases are also careful representations of the species they imitate.

Thomas Gelston (1851-1924) was born into a prominent Bay Ridge, Brooklyn family. Gelston undoubtedly gunned for ducks and shorebirds in the salt marshes of nearby Sheepshead Bay as a boy. As an adult, he summered in Quogue where he led the life of a independently wealthy gentleman sportsman. He carved brant, black duck, merganser and shorebird decoys for his own use and apparently sold some cork-bodied shorebirds through New York's Abercrombie and Fitch in his later years. Gelston's Hudsonian curlews and yellowlegs are notable for the flowing lines of their lively body forms and their simple but effective paint. The breasts of his shorebirds are speckled with dozens of tiny dabs of paint.

THE DELAWARE RIVER
The Delaware River provided a rich and varied habitat for freshwater ducks such as pintails, mallards, teal, widgeons and black ducks. Hunters on the upper Delaware River, above Trenton, New Jersey, developed a unique hunting style that required a specific type of decoy. Upper Delaware River hunters anchored small rigs of decoys facing upstream and then rowed their camouflaged sculls above the decoys to wait in hiding. When the birds came in to the decoys, they carefully sculled back within gunning range. Because this approach took considerable time and stealth, the hunters needed highly realistic birds that could hold their prey's attention as boats approached decoyed wildfowl.

John English (1852-1915) was the patriarch of a decoy making family based in Florence, New Jersey. English's influential decoys set the style followed by succeeding generations of upper Delaware River carvers. He added detailed feather paint, carved tail feathers and relief-carved primaries to his hollow-bodied lures, and also occasionally created birds with high or nestled heads to vary the look of a rig. A number of John English's decoys were repainted around 1920 by John Dawson (1889-1959) of Trenton. Dawson's detailed, stylized paint proved a perfect match for English's forms, and these English/Dawson's have long been among the most highly regarded of Delaware River decoys.

John Blair, Sr. (1842-1928), a carriage maker and sportsman who supplied vehicles to prominent Philadelphians in the years following the Civil War, was the style setter in the lower Delaware River area. The crisply painted, smooth-bodied decoys that apparently also came out of his shop are more closely related to the New Jersey coastal tradition than to the raised wing carving of the upper Delaware River. Three different grades of related decoys are attributed to the Blair shop, but family members have confirmed that John Blair owned and used only the finest birds associated with his name. These have rounded, hollow bodies that are joined with dowels and weighted with a beveled lead rectangle attached with tiny nails; the heads sit on a raised shelf and have tack eyes. Some of Blair's decoys are carved with their necks extended forward to suggest a swimming bird.

NEW JERSEY
Coastal New Jersey is a meeting ground of fresh and salt water, replete with small bays, rivers, and salt marshes that have always teemed with wildfowl. Wild celery and eel grass grew abundantly in the brackish coastal waters and attracted huge flocks of black ducks, bluebills, brant, geese and other species. Many residents of the state's tidewater villages supported themselves off the bounty of the land by hunting, fishing, boatbuilding and guiding, while New Jersey market gunners could ship birds to Atlantic City, Philadelphia or even New York by rail as early as the 1850s.

Early New Jersey carvers developed what has come to be known as the dugout, the state's predominant decoy style. The dugout style was formed by 1850 and remained largely unchanged for a century. Designed for use in the narrow hulled sneak box boats favored by coastal gunners, dugout decoys have small, hollow, two-piece cedar bodies with round bottoms, and upright pine heads which almost invariably face straight forward. The smooth, rounded bodies are made of equal halves of cedar hollowed out with a gouge and laminated together. Like saltwater lures everywhere, the decoys were painted simply and economically, with plumage patterns broadly outlined in solid colors.

Harry Vinucksen Shourds (1861-1920) of Tuckerton was New Jersey's most prolific and influential Gull by Harry V. Shourdsdecoy maker. Shourds' well-made lures have graceful rounded forms and rectangular lead weights he poured into a chiseled hole in their bottoms. In addition to ducks, geese and brant, Shourds also crafted several species of solid-bodied shorebirds. His two known floating gulls, featuring long and precisely symmetrical lines, hooked bill sand split tail carving, were clearly labors of love and rank among the finest birds ever made in New Jersey.

Nathan Rowley Horner (1881-1942) lived in West Creek, New Jersey, near Tuckerton. Although he was far less prolific than Shourds, Horner consistently produced decoys of the highest quality and refinement. The lines of Horner's carvings are generally sleeker than Shourds', and his paint is more subtle, employing a wider range of colors and techniques, including blending and stippling. In further contrast to Shourds, Horner weighted his floaters with a bevel-edged sheet of lead which he attached to the bottom of the decoys with brass screws.

NEW JERSEY SHOREBIRDS
The New Jersey coast drew a wide variety of shorebird species, including long-billed and Hudsonian curlews, black-bellied plovers, yellowlegs, red knots, and ruddy turnstones. The turnstone was more common here than anywhere else on the Atlantic coast, and it was a particular favorite among Jersey carvers. These active little birds have a slightly upturned bill with which they flip over rocks and shells in search of food, and their vivid breeding plumage inspired and tested the skills of many Jersey painters.

While New Jersey's shorebird carvers include such well known figures as Harry V. Shourds, Taylor Johnson and Daniel Lake Leeds, many other equally skilled craftsmen are anonymous. Johnson (1863-1929) of Point Pleasant was a professional carver who made both ducks and shorebirds, while Dan Lake Leeds (1852-1922) of Pleasantville concentrated solely on shorebirds. Their work defines the wide range of the state's shorebird forms. Johnson's quickly but surely carved birds have elongated body profiles and very simple monochromatic paint. Their small heads and long thin bills must have invited breakage. By contrast, Leeds' work is far more careful than Johnson's, with raised-wing carving, split tails and detailed plumage paint patterns with complex lines that bear comparison with the work of Massachusetts's Lothrop Holmes.

THE WARD BROTHERS
Stephen W. (1895-1976) and Lemuel Travis Ward (1896-1984) of
Crisfield, Maryland were professional craftsmen who advertised themselves as "Wildfowl Counterfeiters in Wood." The brothers worked closely together throughout their lives, both in the barbershop they ran and in making the wooden birds that eventually made them famous. The Ward brothers began carving professionally in 1926, shortly after the death of their father. Steve preferred carving and Lem painting, so they divided these tasks accordingly, producing a wide range of working goose and duck decoys throughout the 1930s and '40s.

Crisfield had its own decoy making tradition, completely different from any other part of the Chesapeake Bay. Like other Crisfield decoy makers, including their father and various members of the Sterling and Tyler families, the Wards carved solid-bodied lures with flat bottoms and bold, dramatic Pair of pintails by the Ward Brothersforms. They changed styles constantly, experimenting with different body shapes and painting styles throughout their long career. Whether made for sale or for their own use, a rig of Ward decoys always included a variety of life-like head positions.

After World War II, economic changes and Lem's artistic inclinations led the brothers to focus increasingly on decorative work, made for competitions and mantelpieces. The Wards became major figures in the transition from working decoys to decorative bird carving that took place in the 1950s and '60s. The Ward Foundation, a non-profit institution dedicated to perpetuating the work of the Wards and other American wildfowl carvers and artists, was founded in Salisbury, Maryland in 1968, and Lem was honored as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Folk Art Program in 197?.

THE SOUTH ATLANTIC
The sandy barrier peninsulas of Virginia's Eastern Shore and Carolina's Outer Banks provided a rich habitat for swans, geese, brant, ducks and shorebirds. Thousands of geese wintered on the protected bayside of the barriers and provided residents with food and sport. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the region was also discovered by affluent sportsmen and became home to dozens of private clubs and resorts.

The Cobb family owned and operated Virginia's best known hunting and fishing retreat, located on Cobb Island, Virginia, just off the Eastern Shore. The Cobbs hosted many prominent visitors over the years, to whom they supplied fishing tackle, decoys and guide services as well as outstanding food and accommodations. Nathan Jr. (c. 1825-1905) is believed to have carved the majority of the decoys used on Cobb Island, many of which are marked with a carved N. His output includes geese and brant, a variety of ducks, and several species of shorebirds. Cobb employed naturally curved roots and branches gathered from seaside holly trees to create the animated, twisting necks of his geese and brant decoys, and carefully fitted carved oak bills through the back of his shorebirds' heads. In addition to their expressive sculptural possibilities, both materials were readily available and able to withstand hard use in the field.

Ira Hudson (c. 1873-1949) was a prolific professional boatbuilder and carver who lived on Chincoteague, an isolated island just south of the Maryland line. Hudson carved an extremely wide variety of species and forms, including geese, brant, ducks, and shorebirds as well as life-sized decorative birds and fish. As a commercial craftsman, he produced decoys in several different grades and price ranges and experimented throughout his life with different carving and painting approaches. While all his birds are well made, Hudson's finest decoys, probably crafted for the wealthy sportsmen who occasionally visited Chincoteague, are distinguished by their carefully rendered forms and detailed paint patterns, which often include scratched feather outlines.

Hucks Caines was one of five brothers who lived on an enormous tract of coastal South Carolina purchased in 1905 by the financier and statesman Bernard Baruch. Baruch dubbed his 17, 500 acre purchase Hobcaw Barony and developed it into a privateMallard drake by Huck Caines hunting estate, which he shared with visitors as distinguished as Winston Churchill. After run-ins with the new owner, who did not appreciate what he considered poaching on his land, Hucks eventually turned his skills to Baruch's advantage and became his favorite guide. He is said to have carved Baruch's own personal decoy rig and is also believed to have made the serpentine necked mallard decoys used on the estate.

These unique birds have elongated heads and necks nearly as long as their bodies, which are set back over their chests in an undulating double curve that somehow succeeds in both defying and capturing nature. While the most refined of the Caines birds may have been made for the mantelpiece rather than the marsh. the mallard at right, originally in the McCleery collection, is clearly a gunning bird. The decoy's simple, weathered paint and rope line markings attest to its life on the water, while its direct sculptural power elevates it to a category all its own.

LOUISIANA
Southern Louisiana's regional culture and natural environment are unlike any other in North America, and the state's decoys are equally distinctive. The quiet isolated backwaters of the bayous at the mouth of the Mississippi River harbored thousands of migratory birds that stopped over or wintered in this last landfall on the way south. Hunters in the bayous used small rigs of decoys to attract the pintails, mallards, teal and other fresh water ducks.

Bayou carvers-a rich ethnic mix of Cajuns, French, Germans, Yugoslavians, Italians and other nationalities-brought influences from their native cultures to the art of the decoy. Because they needed only a few decoys at a time, many carvers spent extra time fashioning birds with flamboyant head and body positions, raised wing carving and vivid paint patterns. They fashioned their unusual decoys from the wood of native tupelo gum and bald cypress trees. Both woods approach tropical balsa in their extremely light weights, but unlike balsa they are ideal carving woods, densely grained, durable and resistant to rot.

Nicole Vidocavitch (1853-1945), who is widely considered Louisiana's greatest carver, lived in Sunrise for many years, where he worked as a market gunner and as a guide at the Delta Duck Club. The club was frequented by wealthy sportsmen from New Orleans, who provided a ready market for Vidocavitch's decoys. In 1915, a major hurricane decimated Sunrise and the destitute 62 year-old Vidocavitch relocated to New Orleans, where he survived by selling his carvings. His solid-bodied mallard and pintail decoys are carved from cypress roots and have dynamic, elongated forms with relief-carved wings.

ONTARIO
The Toronto and Lake St. Clair area was home to many exclusive hunting clubs frequented by wealthy sportsmen from all Canada and the United States. These men could afford the best-made and most attractive decoys money could buy, and Toronto's many skilled craftsmen supplied them with decoys of the highest sophistication and refinement. Made for use on the region's quiet, shallow marshes and bays, the finest decoys made by the region's masters had extremely thin body shells set on a bottom board. The delicate, lightweight bodies were often covered with detailed feather lines, achieved by drawing a fine graining comb through wet paint.

John R. Wells (1861-1953) of Toronto, Ontario worked for over forty years at the Aykroyd Boat Building company, where he made sailing skiffs. His best decoys include a rig of around 300 birds commissioned for the Prince of Wales' hunting party in 1919.

David K. Nichol (1859-1949) of Eastern Ontario's Smiths Falls was a master carpenter and boatbuilder who added relief carved wings to his meticulously made decoys. He may have been influenced by French Canadian carvings from nearby Quebec, which have the most extravagantly carved surfaces of all North American decoys.

MASON'S DECOY FACTORY
Mason's Decoy Factory of Detroit was by far the most successful of the many commercial decoy making operations which supplied wooden birds to hunters by mail order in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded by William James Mason in 1896, the company remained in business until 1924, and shipped tens of thousands of its well-made decoys to every corner of North America. Masons are by far the most commonly encountered of all decoys today, and their ubiquity speaks to their durability and quality.

More a cottage industry than a factory in the modern sense of the term, the Mason company divided labor among its employees to increase production. Apprentices began the process by roughing out decoy bodies on a lathe. Skilled master carvers then added hand carved heads and finished the details of the body before turning their work over the paint shop for final detailing.

The Mason factory offered duck, goose and brant decoys as well as shorebirds, crows and doves, all sold by the dozen. It also accepted special orders, lending its style to patterns or models sent in by hunters with particular needs. Mason's ducks were offered in five ascending grades, with prices matching the degree of carving and painting detail. The company's top grade, called Premier, featured hollow two-piece bodies, elaborate bill carving and swirling, stylized paint patterns; a dozen Premiers cost $12 in the early years of this century.

ILLINOIS
Illinois hunting was defined by the state's two major rivers, the Mississippi and the Illinois. Both rivers supported large populations of marsh ducks, especially mallards, pintails, blue and green-winged teal, widgeons and black ducks. While Mississippi River lures were often flat-bottomed, Illinois River decoys were typically boat-like in form, with hollow two-piece bodies and v-shaped bottom hulls. Illinois River decoys were painted more elaborately than lures in other regions of the country, with highly detailed comb and feather paint. Most also carried imported German glass eyes that further enhanced their bright, alert look.

Charles Schoenheider, Sr. (1856-1924) of Peoria was a carpenter and market gunner who made decoys primarily for his own use. While he also made a number of floating lures, Schoenheider's most distinctive works are his standing mallards, pintails and geese, made for winter shooting near air holes in frozen lakes and rivers. Made following the same elongated forms as his floaters, Schoenheider's standing mallards and pintails each balances on a single cast iron foot. The iron foot could be heated to melt into the ice, which would quickly refreeze and secure the decoy. All of Schoenheider's standing ice decoys were painted by Jack Franks, a Peoria decorator.

Robert Elliston ((1849-1915) of Bureau was a professional carver whose work set an early standard among Illinois decoy craftsmen. Elliston's birds were painted by his wife Catherine, whose detailed grain and feather painting was as influential as her husband's carving. Charles Perdew (1874-1963) of Henry was Illinois' most prolific and versatile carver. Like Elliston, Perdew worked in tandem with his wife, Edna, a talented painter. In addition to duck decoys, decoratives and miniatures, Perdew also produced superb duck and crow calls. Perdew decorated the barrels of some of his calls with tiny relief-carved and painted birds, elaborate hunting scenes and owner's initials.

Pintail drake by Charles WalkerCharles Walker (1876-1954) of Princeton was a professional house and sign painter who turned to carving fairly late in life. His decoys, primarily representing the Illinois River's most common species, the mallard, were commissioned by well-to-do members of the exclusive Princeton Game and Fish Club. While most Illinois River decoys had smooth, rounded bodies, Walker's lures were flat-bottomed, and many had relief carved wings. All have high heads and detailed swirling feather paint. Walker bought professional decoy painting kits and apparently followed the kit patterns, adding feathering and combing details of his own invention. In addition to his mallards, he carved a few canvasbacks and pintails. His few long-necked pintails are considered his finest work, a felicitous marriage of species form and personal style.

MINNESOTA AND WISCONSIN
Minnesota and Wisconsin are lands defined by fresh water. The states are divided by the Mississippi River, touched at their northern borders by Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, and dotted with thousands of smaller lakes, ponds and seasonal potholes that have provided critical habitat for migrating and breeding wildfowl for centuries. Wisconsin alone contains nearly 9000 lakes more than twenty acres in size.

Snow geese by John TaxMinnesota' s most important carver, John Tax (d. 1967) of West Union, was a harness maker who made a large rig of goose decoys for his own use in 1917. Since he intended to use them in the corn fields that the geese frequented in the fall and winter, Tax mounted all the birds on iron poles which he could push into the ground for stability. The rig included decoys of Canada, snow and blue geese (a color phase of the snow goose) with laminated bodies carved in a variety of forms-alert watch ganders with their necks stretched up to full length, standers with their heads cocked in different directions, feeders with their necks arching and bending toward the ground, and resting birds with their heads tucked close into their chests. No two birds in the rig were exactly alike.

Enoch Reindahl (b. 1904) of Stoughton, Wisconsin was a conservationist and semi-professional nature photographer whose decoys reflect his life-long love of nature and wild birds. Reindahl was a perfectionist, and his decoys feature carefully carved body and head contours, heads set in reaching, sleeping and turned positions, raised wing carving, and highly detailed comb and feather paint. Reindahl's fastidious attention to detail extends to the eyes of his birds, which he insisted on carving and painting because he did not find glass eyes realistic enough. His article " How to Make Decoys" was published by Field and Stream magazine in 1949, and he coached several younger men, including Ferd and Mandt Homme of Milwaukee, in his techniques.

THE WEST COAST
Wildfowl were so abundant in the West Coast's immense stretches of marshland that few decoys were crafted there before the beginning of the twentieth century. Populations were sparse and the supply of game far outran demand in the early years of settlement. The region's dominant species were geese, canvasbacks, pintails, mallards, teal and black brant, a species peculiar to the Pacific coast. All were avidly hunted and eventually elicited decoys.
William McLellan (b. 1900) of Eureka, California, on Humbolt Bay, made a rig of black brant in the mid-1930s that included sixty floating lures and nine flyers with articulated wings. McClellan carved all the birds from redwood, and included straight and swimming head forms among the rig.

Charles Bergman (1856-1946) of Astoria, Oregon was a Finnish-born seaman who carved professionally after his retirement from the boatyards in 1929. He was an avid hunter, and sometime before the shooting of swans was outlawed in 1918, he carved a rig of twelve whistling swan decoys for his own use. The birds have hollow two-piece red cedar bodies and unusual heads and necks made in three pieces. Only two survivors of the rig are known

Horace Crandall (1892-1969) of Westwood, in north-central California, was an amateur taxidermist who carved delicate, solid-bodied decoys with raised wings. His highly detailed plumage painting reflects his life-long interest in oil and watercolor painting.

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