A dearly-departed friend of my mother’s was the well-known bird carver Charles “Chippy” Chase (1908 – 1998), who I remember as a very funny man with creative hands and big ears. Chippy worked in my grandmother’s garage on High Street in Wiscasset, Maine when he was a young man, then moved his workshop to Woolwich, then to his 90-acre farm in Brunswick. After his pilot career ended, the Harvard graduate took up the hobby of carving birds in 1933. Chippy used specific woods for example, carving a green heron out of olivewood or a snowy owl carved out of elm. My mother, the writer Martha Frink, tells me that his birds were sought from all over the country: A Willow Ptarmigan for the mayor of Anchorage, an American Oyster Catcher for President Gerald Ford, commissions for a California Condor, a Ruprelli Griffon Vulture, eagles, owls, gulls, ibis – all projects that began with a block of wood, and at first, a chain saw, then drills, saws, mallets and many different chisels. He chose a hardwood with natural color and grain to reflect the surroundings or plumage of a particular bird; a rusty teak for a bittern, a light maple for a white ibis. His “Life List” from birding expeditions exceeded 2,400 birds; his numerous sojourns took him to the headwaters of the Amazon several times, as well as Africa, India, Australia, and the 49th state, resulting in a hundreds of carvings of species from all over the world, like the pheasant-tailed jacana of Southeast Asia he “interpreted” from a block of black walnut, according to Frink. I remember him to be the life of my mother’s parties.
He carved birds from single logs and many of his pieces have been featured in museums, such as the Smithsonian, the Farnsworth, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, the Wendell Gilley Museum in Southwest Harborhttp://www.wendellgilleymuseum.org/index.html and the Portland Museum of Art http://www.portlandmuseum.org/ Once asked why his subjects were only birds, Chippy replied, “maybe because they fly.” Chippy’s birds were not decoys. However, in reading about them, I’ve learned this:
No matter the feather, decoys and bird carvers go together.
But I had no idea that there was a decoy collectors association in every state! I should have guessed. I grew up with a father who hunted for ducks and I used to play with the duck call. Decoys decorated my dad’s workshop in the barn. Bottom line: decoys are big business. Collectors pay a lot of money for antique decoys, or decoys carved by certain artists, as well as specific bird carvings. Guyette & Schmidt, Inc. is the world’s largest antique decoy auction firm with over $117,000,000 in sales to date. Visit:http://www.guyetteandschmidt.com/ Learn more in this June 2009 Interview with Antique Duck Decoy Collector Steven Lloyd http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/an-interview-with-antique-duck-decoy-collector-steven-lloyd/ For those interested in learning how to carve decoys, learn the secrets of creating realistic decoys from one of the best known pattern makersDecorative Decoy Carvers Ultimate Painting & Pattern Portfolio By Bruce Burk http://www.foxchapelpublishing.com/p-235-decorative-decoy-carvers-ultimate-painting-pattern-portfolio-series-one.aspx
Decoy and Bird Carving Links
Decoy Magazine’s List of Decoy & Bird Carvers
Tenn. Bird Carver G. Dwain Adams – Ruddy Turnstone Decoys
Cape Cod Bird Carver Frank Adamo (also makes fish carvings)
Long Island Decoy Collectors Association
Midwest Decoy Collectors Association
Minnesota Decoy Collectors Association
Ohio Decoy Collectors and Carvers Association
Decoy Collectors (by Ontario carvers)