by Leslie Milby
As the honking becomes louder and more frequent in the Eastern Shore fields and treelines outside, we know three things: The geese are migrating, many ladies are getting ready to become “hunting widows,” and decoys are about to come out of hibernation.
What was once strictly a tool for hunting is now woven into the art and décor for homes throughout the Shore.
And like other works of art, prices vary wildly. (One of the priciest decoys to fly through the Waterfowl Festival’s auction was a $22,000 ringneck decoy.)
With this year’s festival and its devotees migrating back to Talbot County Nov. 10-12, it presents a great opportunity to not only find decoys that will capture the Shore’s livestyle in your home, but learn about the craft’s history.
From the array available from collectors, dealers, and carvers at the “Buy, Sell, Swap” exhibit to those in the historic museum pieces in the Artifacts exhibit — both in Easton High School — to those on display at the Academy Art Museum, decoys have become synonymous with the festival.
You can even meet and watch some of the carvers at Easton Middle School in the Artisans Gifts and Workshop.
The best place to learn about decoys is simply by asking the “old timers,” who are both passionate and knowledgeable.
The “Buy, Sell, and Swap” exhibit at Easton High School is one of the original exhibits from when the festival started more than 47 years ago.
Many faces have remained the same year after year, or are now slight variations of the former face, as many families have passed the skillset into newer generations.
The exhibit attracts several carvers and craftsmen from all over United States, but specifically from those nearby in Virginia, New Jersey and Delaware.
A distinguished collector would be able to look at a lineup and tell you which carving correlates with a carver from each state because of the body of the bird.
Carvers in some regions carve the bodies long and lean, while other will have heavier body styles.
No matter what exhibit you see them in, you’ll see a wide variety from “that would be a cute little fill in for the built-in’s” and “honey, put that down very slowly and very carefully …”
Get a masterpiece before the Festival even opens to the public by bidding on one at the “Making Way for Decoys,” art and decoy auction held on Nov. 9’s Premiere night.
Every year, auction proceeds go to the William A. Perry Scholarship, a scholarship specially designated for the education of the Festival’s youth volunteers, infamously known as “ducksitters!”
There will also be a “Details of the Decoy” lecture at the Sportsmen’s Heritage tent (nestled nicely near the beer garden) at the Elks Club on Sunday of the Festival.
Ronnie Newcomb and Rod Benjamin, both of whom are collectors, historians, and enthusiasts on behalf of the Chesapeake Maritime Museum will be presenting in the lecture.
They’ll share the long history and evolution of decoys, which can be traced back to Native Americans.
For more information, visit www.waterfowlfestival.org.