Two Stylised Shorebird Decoys
There is something uniquely individual about vintage decoy birds, particularly the more diminutive slender shorebirds with their alert tilted heads, folded wings and elegant sinuous necks. Generally, hand carved and painted by water-fowlers, rather than craftsmen, these little works of folk art sculpture somehow capture the nature of real birds in a stylised impressionistic manner, rather than with accurate representative detail, and display the maker’s sensitive understanding of their subjects. Hewn and carved from indigenous local materials, the shapes are whittled and refined before being decorated, often with household or boat paint.
The birds needed to be light yet robust, as teams or “rigs” of them were required to create the impression of peaceful flocks, to inspire confidence in passing birds looking for a safe resting or feeding place.
The groups of decoys were usually carried to the marshes, lake and sea shores in large canvas bags or sacks, so apart from the natural weathering when in use, they also inevitably rubbed together and bounced against each other in transit, creating surface wear, some loss of paint and occasional incidental damages and losses, particularly to their long fine beaks.
They were working birds and their owners would repair and redecorate them as they saw fit, year on year, lending them the unique character and individuality mentioned earlier. Some rare examples remain in “untouched” condition, retaining original features and paintwork.
The range of species, quality of carving, regional styles, painted decoration and condition are endless, which is possibly why they appeal to such a broad audience and somehow encapsulate the very spirit of “Folk Art”.