Decoys are folk art

In my office at the moment sit four decoys for the annual Ducks Unlimited auction coming up this Friday evening.
They range from a working decoy to museum-quality duck reproductions.
Sitting on a filing cabinet, they face me from across the room. But come Thursday evening, they will travel to the Memorial Sports Centre to be part of the auctions at the DU banquet.
I have enjoyed looking at decoys since my wife, some 30 years ago, gave me a mallard decoy as a gift. It began a long enjoyment of collecting duck carvings.
Creating duck decoys goes back thousands of years. Natives of North America used cattails and bullrushes to make floating decoys to attract ducks to roosting or hunting areas, where they could be bow-hunted or netted.
In the north, the Cree use tamarack branches to make standing goose decoys used to attract birds in the annual spring and fall hunts.
Fish decoys also were used by first nations when the lakes and streams were frozen to attract larger prey fish. Some resembled smaller fish, frogs, snakes, mice, and other animals.
Holes were cut and the fish attracted to the decoys were speared.
Just as quilt-making, rug-hooking, and sewing were part of every-day living and existence, crafting decoys for hunting and fishing were part of early pioneer living.
As many of those artistic skills disappeared, a new appreciation came forward recognizing the value and rich culture that was created in folk arts and crafts.
The art of carving fish and duck decoys has progressed. In much of Minnesota, fish decoys sill are used for spear-fishing. Master carvers today sell their works in collector shops.
Many working decoys have been found in antique stores across North America and are highly sought after. A record price of more than $1 million has been paid for the work of a carver.
Decorative decoys may be simple folk art to highly-detailed replicas.
This Friday night, Gladys Martin will offer up the last of her late husband’s working decoys. Bill carved working decoys and used them to draw ducks on Rainy Lake into his blinds.
It was his hobby and a passion. Today, few hunters carve their floating decoys, instead choosing to go to a hunting store and purchase ready-made rubber or foam replica ducks.
Another local elderly carver, Bruce Caldwell, who celebrated his 88th birthday last week, will offer up a bluebill that has ducked a million pellets on Rainy Lake.
Both decoys are hand-painted and represent a dying art in carving. Today when decoys are carved, they are done for decorative purposes.
Three ducks will go forward Friday night from Malcolm Douglas. A life-sized replica of a pintail, with every vein carved on every feather, should be a highlight.
Painstakingly detailed, hundreds of hours were consumed by Malcolm in 1994 as he carved and painted the pintail decoy. He also has offered up a pair of redhead duck decoys that he created in 1992.
His attention to detailing the colour and feathering of the male and female make them true works of art.
The works of district carvers is unique. Local carvers have carved and painted mallards, bluebills, loons, wood ducks, and mergansers, geese, owls, and eagles, with most having a cherished place in home and cabins.
They have found their way across North America.
Anyone bidding on the decoys that are being offered Friday night will have a one-of-a-kind, heirloom piece of folk art for their home or cabin.

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