Picture Essay: A Look Inside a Decoy Carver’s Workshop

J.P. Hand sits at his workbench inserting a freshly painted rig of 10 brant decoys right into a slot bag whereas we get able to hunt within the morning. He constructed every brant from three items of Atlantic white cedar with the sort of instruments most individuals have of their woodsheds—a hatchet, some knives, and a little bit of sandpaper. However while you choose one up, it’s gentle, as a fowl is gentle, and appears so pure it’s as if it hatched from a wood egg.

The whole lot about Hand’s store appears to be from the previous. The furnishings appears to be like as if it was made greater than a century in the past, and there’s a noticeable lack of energy instruments, save for a band noticed, a drill, and a desk noticed getting used solely as a desk. But the decoys he makes, and the strategies he makes use of to make them, are as related as ever.

Retailer-bought plastic decoys, with detailed wings and feathers, could appear to be geese, however Hand’s wood decoys exude life and perspective. Every of them shows a sort of persona—a mix of the fowl’s and his personal. Hand began carving at 17 when he couldn’t afford to purchase decoys, and now, at 68, he’s made a residing carving and guiding out of his house and small farm close to Cape Could Courtroom Home, New Jersey.

He’s additionally a historian, tracing his household’s historical past again 325 years to when the primary of his ancestors settled on the South Jersey coast and ultimately began carving decoys themselves. Right this moment, he sells his decoys to hunters and collectors all around the world and has taken on plenty of apprentices.

Like all good artist, Hand is aware of how to take a look at issues. He’s always observing wild birds at his farm and on the saltwater marshes close to his house, and he’s all the time in search of methods to make use of the pure supplies he finds close by to painting them. Above all, he can see the character of a fowl and freeze it right into a wood decoy that by some means seems to have all of the motion of the actual factor.

Learn Subsequent: Q&A: Jerry Talton on Carving Decoys And Carrying on Tradition

The results of his work is greatest described by Hand’s pal and fellow carver Pete Peterson, who left me this observe earlier than I headed house after our hunt: “A hand-carved decoy is poetry within the making and magic on the water—a person’s autograph in wooden.”

The Con Artist: Step Inside the Workshop of Decoy Carver J.P. Hand
A teal decoy in progress on a chair maker’s bench—an age-old workbench design seemingly handed down from European colonists. The stepped block offers the carver one thing to brace a decoy towards whereas carving. Christopher Testani
Hands carving a duck decoy head.
Hand places the ending touches on a teal decoy head with a carving knife. Christopher Testani
Hammering a duck decoy head onto a wooden body.
Hand glues and nails a decoy head onto a physique. After the glue units, He’ll end carving the decoy and mix the seams till it feels as if it’s made out of one piece of wooden. Hand doesn’t use wooden filler or glass eyes on his decoys. Christopher Testani
Decoy carver looks at half finished teal decoy made of wood.
Hand examines a half-finished decoy earlier than attaching the top. South New Jersey decoys like Hand’s are historically hole and made out of three items of Atlantic white cedar. Market hunters and outfitters of the late 1800s and early 1900s prized hollow-bodied decoys for his or her light-weight portability. Christopher Testani
carving tools on a wooden surface.
Left: Hand can tough out a decoy with a hatchet sooner than most individuals can cut up kindling. Center: After he will get the essential form, he switches to a spokeshave for larger management. Proper: Hand makes use of carving knives to form a decoy head and tail. Christopher Testani
A hand-carved mallard drake decoy.
A drake mallard decoy. Christopher Testani
A table full of open cans of paint.
Hand’s paints and brushes with two primed dove decoys. Christopher Testani
Shelves full of shorebird decoys and antiques.
Hand’s home and eating room are crammed with treasures like his assortment of shorebirds and vintage decoy branding irons. Christopher Testani
A flying duck decoy made by JP Hand.
One among Hand’s “flying duck” mergansers. Christopher Testani
Two hand-made miniature duck boats.
A pair of scale-model sneakboxes full with miniature hand-carved decoys. Christopher Testani
A pile of hand-carved teal decoys on a carving bench.
Hand’s private rig of greenwing teal. Christopher Testani
The bottom ballast of a duck decoy with a lead ballast.
The ballast on a greenwing teal from Hand’s looking rig. Hand sells most of his decoys, however he stamps his son’s identify on the ballast of those he needs to maintain and cross down. Christopher Testani
A hand carved atlantic brant decoy.
An Atlantic brant with Hand’s signature snaky-head neck form. Christopher Testani

(This picture essay seems within the Dwelling Difficulty, the newest digital version of Discipline & Stream.)

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