Duck Art and Duck Decoys

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 30, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Yesterday, I told my wife, “Well, I didn’t have to shoot that d— duck!” She understood what I meant because of an art class incident I have alluded to many times, and of course she knows I’m not a hunter.

            Years ago, when I took a summer art class, a fellow art student struggled to paint a duck on a pond for her oil painting assignment. After weeks of not being able to paint the duck to look like a duck, she loudly announced to the class, “I shot that d— duck,” meaning she painted over him, eliminating him from her landscape painting. What a great metaphor!

            This week I felt a lot like that fellow art student as I struggled to create a piece of wood art, which was supposed to look like a wigeon (also spelled ‘widgeon”) duck. With three pieces of Hawaiian driftwood and some additional wood scraps and a bit of wood glue, I struggled and struggled unsuccessfully until I almost gave up. Then, after adding a fourth piece of driftwood, I thought my clumps of wood were beginning to look like a duck. I didn’t have to shoot it!

            Wood art can be anything from whittling to gluing pieces of wood together to very carving intricate wood sculpture. The artists who are talented enough to carve the wood into beautiful forms sell their works for a fairly good amount. Intricately carved wooden waterfowl, especially ducks, generally sell for between $125 to $300 each.

            The Javanese artist, Supriyanto, carves ducks and other waterfowl out of bamboo wood, and his works sell for $40 to $99 each, depending on size and intricacy. They are really beautiful works of art and worth every penny.

            Prior to creating a wigeon duck, I have done a great white heron and an egret. I suppose the greatest insult a wood artist could get would be for someone to think his duck art was merely a duck decoy. Believe it or not, many duck hunters buy both duck decoys and duck art and are very discerning about the art part.

            Duck decoys were originally carved from white cedar wood, but today, many are made of plastic and canvas, as well as cork. Modern floating decoys are often made from thermoplastic resin and are hollow inside. The only problem with these is that hollow thermos will sink if the hunter accidentally shoots his decoy. Of course, the real purpose of duck decoys is to attract real ducks, and if they are too realistic-looking, you might shoot the wrong one.

            In most instances, the duck decoys are not very artistic and broadly resemble the shape of a duck, which a flock of ducks flying overhead might or might not recognize. Usually they don’t cost as much as wood art.

            It should be pointed out that there is another device known as “duck decoys,” which is totally different from a carved duck. Today, just about the only “hunters” who use them are ornithologists. It’s a device that traps the ducks (which can later be released); it consists of a series of hoops with netting. In the past, it was used by hunters who didn’t like eating the meat of their waterfowl filled with the lead shots of a shotgun. I’m not sure how they killed them after they trapped them. The ornithologists just want to study and release the creatures.

            Indeed, duck art and duck decoys are not the same thing, and hopefully the one called “art” sells for a little more. My American Wigeon Duck wood art will be included in the Silent Auction at our church fund-raiser on September 9, in what used to be called the Knights of Columbus Hall in Wallis. Keeping in mind that all money made at the auction will go to such missions as world hunger, deaf ministry, disaster aid, etc., perhaps some of you duck hunters will want to bid on my duck. If nothing else, maybe you could use it as a decoy.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.


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