Devlin man carving out name with ducks

A 10-year hobby is beginning to put district duck carver Alan Anderson among the best in the country.
Anderson, a life-long resident of Devlin, gradually is collecting ribbons for his carvings of decorative ducks and decoys. He’s been entering them in carving competitions across Canada and the U.S., with more and more success with each bird he enters.
Most recently, Anderson collected “best in show” with his decorative ducks at the Oak Hammock competition in Winnipeg and at the Brant Festival in Nanaimo, B.C. He also grabbed “best in show” for best decoy at the Chinook festival in Calgary last year.
He also has brought home prizes from shows in Toronto, Louisiana, and at Winnipeg’s Prairie Canada carving competition.
After conquering the novice and intermediate categories some years ago, Anderson now only can compete in open competition against other renowned artists.
The winning results come in stark contrast to Anderson’s first competition 10 years ago, where his decoy was the first one eliminated.
“They judge them in a big pond and that was the first one they took out of the water,” he recalled. “I went to a judge and I said ‘Is there anything at all you like about that duck?’ He looked it over and said, ‘There’s two feathers on the speculum that are pretty good.’”
At the time, Anderson was disappointed but he learned to take in the judge’s comments and persevered.
“If I just sat here and carved, I’d just think I was a good carver because your sitting here with your friends and family. The competitions–that’s what separates the men from the boys,” he laughed.
Since then, Anderson’s ducks have improved and there are steady requests for his work, leaving him about 18 months behind the demand.
“I give an awful lot away. I donate a few and then some go to relatives, brothers and sisters,” he said.
He currently is working on carving ducks for his nieces and nephews–all 14 of them. And every year, he also donates one to be auctioned off at the Ducks Unlimited banquet in Fort Frances.
The ducks have intricate detail, with every hair on every feather carefully etched out. The birds look real from only a few feet away as some feathers are carved so carefully they stick off the ducks backs in thin blades which don’t look like they possibly could be wood.
Carving is not the only thing Anderson has developed as each bird also is painted with colours and textures just like the real thing.
Anderson also has learned his ducks with his hobby as he’s carved males and females of many different breeds.
“When I started to carve, about the only duck I knew were mallards,” he recalled. “In North America, I think there’s 25 ducks and with each duck there’s different colours.”
Wooden ducks and decoys, once a common sight among hunters, have become rare since cheap, plastic ones have taken over. “In about 1950, the plastic decoys came in and those old hunters just burned a lot of them,” explained Anderson.
Today, Anderson’s ducks are being purchased as valuable pieces of art. Duck carvings everywhere have become highly-prized pieces and some of the older wooden ducks are now worth a fortune.
In fact, a “Sleeping Canada Goose” carved by A. Elmer Crowell in the early 1900s recently sold for $684,500 at a U.S. auction. “Getting $50,000 is pretty common for those old decoys,” said Anderson.
In a workshop lined with carving tools and ducks, Anderson spends anywhere from weeks to months working on the birds. Chunks of wood at different stages of carving sit on his bench, including his latest project, a female mallard whose facial features are beginning to take shape.
“That’s what wins a contest–a good life-looking head,” he noted.