Friday, August 10, 2012

Local Wood Carver Selected to Teach His Craft

These duck decoys – a blue winged teal pair, hollow wood, painted with artist acrylics -  took 1st and 2nd place at the Ward World Championship this past April. (courtesy photo)

Six Students to Learn to Create Duck Decoys

Jim Higgins, a wood carver from Eliot, is one of fourteen artists from around the country to have been selected as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Higgins is to teach six students from Maine and New Hampshire how to carve and paint a working decoy through a project with the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University.
“I’ve been making decoys forever,” Higgins said. “But I haven’t taught it in probably fifteen, eighteen years.” Higgins said the students were selected by word of mouth.
“It went very quickly. Within hours of finding out I was involved, friends in the business talked to people and filled half the positions. I have a neighbor who was interested.”
Higgins said he was hoping to get some high school kids involved, to help lengthen the tradition by teaching it to the young.
“The youngest is twenty-three (years old), and the oldest is probably quite a bit older than that. I wouldn’t hazard a guess,” he said. “Three of the students have never made a decoy in their life; the other three have a bit of experience.”
Higgins is going to start the classes August 15, teaching two students at a time.
They will spend the next couple of months, creating, carving, and painting wooden duck decoys, and then bring their all their produced artwork down to a show in the fall.
The products are functioning decoys.
“Of the group I have, two of them are duck hunters,” said Higgins, an avid hunter. “Of course, that’s how I came to it. I started making them for myself, back in 1974.”
The Ward Museum was awarded the grant by the N.E.A. to support the project, which is called “Carving Out Future Decoy Makers.” The thirteen other carvers selected to teach are: Jim Burcio, Antioch, CA; Tom Matus, Boise, ID; Billy Pinches, Arcata, CA; Bill Browne, Lincoln, NE; Jason Russell, Gadsden; Mark Schupp, Boonville, MO; Gene Herbert, Houma, LA; Pat Gregory, Bloomington, IL; Rich Smoker, Marion, MD; Bob Hand, Sag Harbor, NY; William Belote, Lewes, DE; Ross Smoker, Selinsgrove, PA; Patrick Eubanks, Farmville, NC and Brian Ballard, Hopkins, MI.
This project intends to help preserve, promote, and present the decoy carving traditions of the United States. This is the sixth year that the National Endowment of the Arts has awarded the Ward Museum a grant to support this project. The first two years were limited to the Mid Atlantic region; it now is expanded to represent the four major migration flyways across the United States. The NEA provides the funding to pay the professional carver’s instructor fee and a stipend for materials. The students have the unique opportunity to learn how to craft a functional hunting decoy from a professional carver at no cost. It is hoped that this experience stimulates the eighty-four students to continue the tradition of decoy making, an original American art form.
Each fall the Ward Museum holds the Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo on the grounds of the museum, next to Schumaker Pond. The Expo is an opportunity for carvers and collectors to meet each other, exhibit their decoys in a public forum, and compete for ribbons and prizes. The decoys completed in this project will be entered into the Chesapeake Challenge held on October 13. Their work will be judged as functional working decoys along side the work of other regional carvers. The instructors will also participate in discussions regarding their efforts to pass their skills and knowledge to their students and their community.
In addition to the Chesapeake Challenge, there are many other activities at the Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo held October 12-13 that promote and preserve waterfowling traditions. On Friday and Saturday the front parking lot becomes a festive Market Place to buy, sell and trade an eclectic mix of fine antique decoys, collectible hunting items, folk art, and antique furniture. Decoy identification and appraisals are available both days.
The museum hosts an Eastern Shore Seafood Feast on Friday evening which is sponsored in part by Chesapeake Utilities.  Special programs follow the pig roast and are of interest to both the collector and contemporary carver.
Saturday is a day of competitions. Collectors enter antique decoys from their collection into the “Old Birds” Antique Decoy Competition. Competitors enter a canvasback into the Contemporary Antique Decoy Competition in which carvings are to resemble those made prior to 1950. There is also a duck head carving competition in which participants are given one and a half hours to complete the carving of a drake hooded merganser head. Each year the species for the above competitions change.
During the Expo, the LaMay Gallery showcases “Great Lakes Decoys and Folk Sculpture.”  The five Great Lakes, in the heartland of North America, have provided natural habitats, easily navigable waterways, and abundant food fresh water since their formation more than 10,000 years ago. Humans and wildlife alike have thrived along the shores of Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario and Superior as well as the smaller St. Clair, which together form the largest system of freshwater lakes in the world. Great Lakes Decoys and Folk Carvings presents many individually-made and commercially-produced wildfowl and fish decoys, patent drawings, and related folk sculpture from Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota, along with a history of exclusive hunt clubs in those regions
The festive atmosphere beckons visitors and competitors. Admission to Expo and the museum are free. Tickets for the Eastern Shore Seafood Feast can be purchased at the museum store. Children’s programs are offered on Saturday. A variety of food and beverages will be for sale on Saturday.
For more information regarding the project “Carving Out Future Decoy Makers” or Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo call the Ward Museum at 410-742-4988, 106 or visit