Category Archive 'Decoys'

30 Jul 2009

A. Elmer Crowell Catalogue and Exhibitions

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Nesting Canada Goose, Copley Fine Arts Auctions, Sporting Sale, July 15-16, 2009, sold for $661,250

Maine Antique Digest thoughtfully informs us that, too bad! we’ve already missed major Massachusetts events devoted to the work of the renowned Cape Cod decoy carver A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1951) whose carvings have repeatedly set new records for auction prices.

Running curlew, sold at Copley in 2007 for $186,500, setting a decorative bird record

The Massachusetts Audubon Visual Arts Center in Canton had a symposium, Elmer Crowell & Beyond: A Gathering of Collectors & Enthusiasts, alas! on May 2nd, associated with a tremendous (now concluded) Crowell exhibition titled A. Elmer Crowell: Master of Decoys & More.

The good news is that an exhibition catalogue is in the works which will be available from Mass Audubon in the Fall sometime. The title will be A. Elmer Crowell: Master of Decoys. Contact Amy Montague at Mass Audubon.

Meanwhile, another Crowell exhibition A Bird in the Hand: The Carvings of Elmer and Cleon Crowell at the Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts began in April and will be running through the end of October. MAD thinks it is likely to prove very popular and run longer.

Cleon Crowell and his father A(nthony). Elmer Crowell

01 Jul 2008

People Used to Eat Loons

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Loon Decoy, Nova Scotia

One of my liberal college classmates was recently ranting about the terrible growth of Inequality over the whole post-Reagan period of the ascendancy of Conservatism in American politics, which roughly coincided, interestingly enough, with most of our own real, post-age-30, adulthoods.

Another classmate effectively rebutted those assertions of declining middle-class economic well-being by pointing out how much had changed with respect to lifestyle and expectations in America during that time, as well as over our own lifetimes. We approaching-age-60 adults can remember not only a world with no personal computers, no cell phones, and no multiple family automobiles. We can remember the time of no televisions, no air conditioners, party-line telephones, and a lot of people owning no automobile at all.

One can see the dramatic impact on human life of the economic growth produced by the free economy just by looking at antique artifacts of everyday life. Those charming collectible pieces of folk art being sold at auction for high prices to serve in future as decorative art not so terribly long ago were practical tools.

Take the charming, somewhat primitive, stark and streamlined decoy above, found in Nova Scotia, going on the block at a Guyette & Schmidt Auction later this month. Someone will be proudly displaying it soon in his living room or den but, less than a century ago, it was bobbing in some cove or inlet along the shore as a hunter was trying to shoot… a loon.

The common loon, Gavia immer, is protected today, and most people would find the idea of shooting one of these iconic symbols of the Northern wilderness sacrilegious and the idea of cooking and eating one even less appealing.

Loons are pretty much the lowest evolutionary form of waterfowl, the most primitive and the boniest, featuring the toughest flesh and the fishiest taste. No one would eat loon if he could get coot or even merganser.

Loons were so renowned for their lack of gustatory appeal that a whole genre of loon recipes taking roughly the following form are traditional jokes.

Catch a Loon Duck. (Black Lake Loon’s are best). Pluck and clean. Boil well. With sharp knife, split duck down the belly. Splay it on a well soaked hardwood plank. Nail it good and wire it securely. Place upright on plank in front of hot coals on outdoor fireplace. Cook well for about two hours. When done, throw that fishy duck away, and eat the plank!

But, in the old days, people really did hunt loons in order to eat them. There would be periods of the year when the more migratory waterfowl were not present and available in the North Country. Ducks and geese would have flown South, but you could still find loons.

Even in Nova Scotia, I expect it’s been a long, long time since anybody was reduced to dining on loon.

21 Aug 2006

Joseph W. Lincoln, Decoy Maker

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Joseph Whiting Lincoln (1859-1938), of Accord, Massachusetts, sanding a decoy in front of his workshop, 1926
(Leslie R. Jones photo)

Wildfowl decoys hand-carved by self-taught craftsmen working in the classic American waterfowl shooting regions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been recognized as a highly evocative and peculiarly American form of folk art. Decoys have been avidly studied and collected within the sporting community for decades, and examples from the most renowned makers bring high prices at auction.

The work of few makers is more admired than that of Joseph W. Lincoln of Accord, Massachusetts. Joe Lincoln’s birds combine a certain abstract monumentality with an effectively lifelike impressionism. They worked particularly well in their day, because their maker took deliberate care to produce well-fed and contented looking birds.

One can never see enough Joe Lincoln decoys, and I recently discovered that a privately-printed, limited edition (1000 copies) book on Lincoln appeared in 2002.

Copies are still available at the original price of $98 from the author (I paid more on Ebay for mine):

Cap Vinal
c/o New England Tackle
41 Sharp Street
Hingham, MA 02043

Mr. Vinal can be contacted via email at

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