News / USA

Decoys Aren't Just for Hunters Anymore

Wood carvings are American folk art in Maryland town

Hunters traditionally use decoys to lure waterfowl - mostly ducks and geese - close enough to shoot.
Hunters traditionally use decoys to lure waterfowl - mostly ducks and geese - close enough to shoot.
June Soh

Havre de Grace, Maryland is a popular destination for hunters because it's located where the Susquehanna River flows into the Chesapeake Bay, a well-known habitat for waterfowl.

However, more and more visitors to the small town are seeking a different kind of bird wooden decoys, the town’s traditional craft.

Self-proclaimed decoy capital of the world

Capt. Bob Jobes brings his boat into dock, returning with his son after a day of crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay.   

Like many others here, Jobes fishes for a living. But when he's not on the water, he's working in the shed behind his house, carving wooden decoys. 

“It was just growing up as a kid, learning a skill how to do this," he says. "I've got two brothers that carve, my son carves and my father. Yeah. Three generations carving decoys.”

Bob Jobes hard carves a wooden decoy duck.
Bob Jobes hard carves a wooden decoy duck.

Hunters traditionally use decoys to lure waterfowl - mostly ducks and geese - close enough to shoot.

Decoys are so revered here that the town calls itself the decoy capital of the world.

Decoy museum

Havre de Grace even has a decoy museum, where about 1,000 decoys are on display. Most were handmade in the Chesapeake Bay region.  

"Approximately 14,000 visitors come here each year," says John Sullivan, director of the museum. "We have visitors from all over the United States and all over the world.”

Henry Miner came from the Chicago area to see the decoys. "I particularly like the older ones, the very first styles and anything that is wood because, nowadays, everything is plastic or foam, so they are pretty neat to look at."

According to Sullivan, the demand for decoys took off in the mid 19th century when hunters began to use sink boxes, which were floating platforms surrounded by decoys.

“You would use from 200 to 500 decoys around these gunning devices," he says. "And that demand put a lot of the housepainters and carpenters in the business of producing decoys.”

American folk art

The demand for decoys declined after sink boxes were outlawed in 1935. That's when people began to perceive the wooden birds as form of American folk art.  

“People were collecting decoys and we were selling so many decoys that we could just totally make a living off of carving," says Jobes. "It's changing a little bit now, with the economy."  

Decoys are beloved in Havre de Grace. They sit in restaurants, adorn shop windows and decorate homes, including Mitch Shank's. His grandfather, R. Madison Mitchell, was the most prolific decoy carver in town.

Shank started collecting decoys as a teenager, when he worked for his grandfather.

"In Havre de Grace, if you drove around town and knocked on a door," he says, "most of the houses would probably have at least one decoy.”

Wooden decoys, here in Vincenti's shop in Havre de Grace, Md., can sell for up to several thousand dollars.
Wooden decoys, here in Vincenti's shop in Havre de Grace, Md., can sell for up to several thousand dollars.

Carrying on the tradition

Jeannie Vincenti and her husband, who run a store in town, are also carvers.

"Our customers are local people who are aware of the tradition," says Vincenti. "There are also tourists that come in and do not understand quite exactly what a decoy may be, but when they come in they find something in the store that they like and consider a treasure."

Prices for a decoy can range from $50 to several thousand. One antique decoy in Vincenti's shop has a price tag of almost $5,000.

The shop also sells carving supplies.  

“There are younger people coming into it every day," she says. "Is it the number that we saw years ago?  Probably not."

Vincenti hopes more young people become decoy carvers so the tradition will continue, allowing Havre de Grace to continue to call itself the decoy capital of the world.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs