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

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs