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AROUND HOME : The Real Decoys

February 05, 1989|JUDITH SIMS

HUNTERS CARVED the first duck decoys to fool birds flying overhead into thinking the water below was safe for landing. Hunters still use decoys, but the largest market for detailed wood sculptures now is among home hobbyists and collectors, who call their birds "gunning floating decoys" or "decorative life-size floating decoys" if they are pond-worthy. If they won't ever go near the water, they are "decorative life-size wildfowl."

American Indians gave the first settlers the idea for decoys. Today hunting decoys are usually plastic and oversized (apparently live ducks can't tell the difference from way up in the sky), and the awesomely realistic ducks that adorn many a den (and that can cost from $2,000 to $300,000 each) carry on the wood tradition.

Depending on the level of artistic achievement desired, carved ducks can be roughly rendered chunks of wood, or, more likely, they can require many painstaking hours of hand carving and painting, the artist carefully following extremely detailed photographs and patterns. A beginner, unsure about whether to devote many hours to painting duck feathers, might purchase a kit, some of which contain a pre-carved duck shape; others supply a roughed-out block of wood requiring extensive knife work. Any way you sculpt it, a properly shaped and painted bird will take weeks, even months, to complete.

Two major decoy shows and competitions this year include the California Open 1989, sponsored by Pacific Southwest Waterfowl Arts Inc., at San Diego's Vacation Village Feb. 18 and 19, and the Decoy and Wildfowl Carvers Assn. Show at Lake Perris Fairgrounds, Perris (near Riverside) Oct. 6 through 15.

The Decoy and Wildfowl Carvers Assn., P.O. Box 8215, Hemet, Calif. 92343, offers classes in carving and painting to its members. Vernon Black, president of the Decoy and Waterfowl Carvers Assn. in Southern California, says that most decoy carvers obtain supplies from mail-order sources, as there are few retail outlets catering to this craft. Mail-order supply catalogues are available from P.C. English Inc., 6201 Mallard Ave., Thornburg, Va. 22565; K & M Decoy and Bird Carving Supplies, P.O. Box 4698, Downey 90241; Craftwoods Decoy and Wood-Carving Supplies, 10921 York Road, Hunt Valley, Md. 21030, and Woodcraft Wood-Carving Supplies, 41 Atlantic Ave., Woburn, Mass. 01888.

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