Decoys draw hundreds of admirers

April 24, 1994|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun OCEAN CITY

OCEAN CITY -- Decoy carver Larry Tawes Jr. has a sure-fire way to test how accurately he's crafted a wooden duck: He takes it out to his aviary, where he has 44 real ducks.

He puts the decoy down on the ground, and if it's good, "The bird will go right up to the wood carving."

Mr. Tawes, 37, is one of 1,000 competitors hoping to win part of the $93,000 in prizes being given this weekend at the 1994 Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition.

"I can carve anything if I set my mind to it, but I like to carve waterfowl," Mr. Tawes said Friday, as hundreds of spectators milled around Ocean City's Convention Center to admire the handiwork of carvers from around the world.

Mr. Tawes, of Hebron near Salisbury, also is an avid hunter who boasts that his Labrador retriever, Gunner, never has missed a day of hunting season.

The art of carving decoys has its roots in duck hunting, where wooden ducks -- sometimes as many as 40 -- are set out to lure the real thing. But some carvers have moved beyond the "shootin' rig," as working duck decoys are called, to sculpting finely detailed decorative birds from wood.

"Nobody would ever dream of shooting over these ducks," said Harold Hynscht, 33, a carver from Canada, as he stood near a display. "They'll probably end up on a mantelpiece."

That's certainly the case with nearly all the entries in the competition, where prizes are awarded in five categories: Interpretive Wood Sculpture, Decorative Miniatures, Decorative Life-size Wildfowl, Floating Decorative Life-size Waterfowl Pairs and Shootin' Rig.

Most of the entries are commissioned before they're carved and can sell for as much as $40,000.

But the Shootin' Rig category is for working decoys, and entries are tested in Assawoman Bay behind the convention center so judges can be sure the decoys will float and will right themselves if overturned -- an important characteristic in a sport pursued almost exclusively in bad weather.

Working decoys are fitted with little keels, a cord so they can be reeled in and weights to keep them from drifting away.

Decoy carving also is evolving into an art form beloved by nonhunters, too, and many carvers are also "birders," amateur ornithologists.

"When I was a kid, I was always interested in birds," said Gary Yoder, 35, a carver from Grantsville. Mr. Yoder uses standard woodworking tools and dental tools to craft his miniatures, including the eagle he entered in this year's show, where miniatures can't be more than 8 inches long.

"I can't remember a day that I didn't like birds," Mr. Yoder said. "You can bird anywhere you go. It's not a hobby, it's not a business -- it's a way of life."

Mr. Yoder relies on his observations in the field and at area banding stations -- places where ornithologists put bands on birds and then release them to track their movements -- to make his tiny carvings realistic. And he also uses observation of preserved birds from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Kenneth C. Parkes, the senior curator of the museum's bird section, attended this weekend's show as a consultant for judges.

Dr. Parkes, who dates his love of birds to a summer at nature camp in 1939, was asked to rule at the contest on such issues as whether a Eurasian sparrow hawk had been accurately sized by a carver, whether a duck decoy was too blue along the back and whether one entry had been placed in the wrong category.

"Most of the judges are carvers," Dr. Parkes said after ruling that a scoter duck decoy needed to be re-categorized for competition.

But their patience is nearly unlimited.

Mr. Yoder and Mr. Tawes said carving their entries had taken more than 1,000 hours, with both finishing within hours of the competition's start on Friday.

WARD WORLD WINNERS

OCEAN CITY -- Here are winners in the top five categories of 1994's Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition. All five winning entries will be purchased by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury. The winners:

* Floating Decorative Life-size Waterfowl Pairs: Jon Jones, Algonac, Minn., with emperor geese.

* Decorative Life-size Wildfowl: Glenn Ladenberger, Ontario, Canada, with a male northern goshawk.

* Decorative Miniatures: Pete Zaluzec, Lake Ville, Ill., with a bateleur -- an African eagle. He won this category last year, too.

* Interpretive Wood Sculpture: John Sharp, Kent, Ohio, with "City Pigeons." He also won last year in this category.

* Shootin' Rig: Keith Mueller, South Meriden, Conn., with two black ducks and one mallard hen.

The decoys will be on display at the Ocean City Convention Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

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