A New Hobby, A World Championship

July 23, 1995|By John Dedinas | John Dedinas,Contributing Writer

George H. Stram's house is full of wooden ducks, which have provided him with a hobby, a little extra cash and a world championship ribbon.

Mr. Stram of Forest Hill took first place recently at the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition in Ocean City with his carving of a red-breasted merganser duck. The championship is an international event at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury.

"I'm not the greatest carver in the world," Mr. Stram said. "I do pretty well though."

About 1,000 carvers from seven countries went to Ocean City to compete in five different carving classes: youth, novice, intermediate, open and world.

Mr. Stram, who competes in the open class, won the sea duck category.

Although a world championship is impressive and the merganser is a great carving, Mr. Stram said, he is more proud of the shoveler duck that won him his first ribbon.

After only one year of carving, the shoveler took third place in the novice class at the Ward competition in 1990.

Mr. Stram said he started carving because he needed a new hobby after remodeling his house. His wife, Ginny, encouraged him to take a few classes, and soon he was hooked.

He was always carving during his learning phase, Mrs. Stram said, and she had a hard time getting him to leave his workshop. Now, Mr. Stram carves less frequently.

"I try not to get myself into a position where I have to [carve] something," said the 57-year-old teacher at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore. "I'm not going to sacrifice my family life to become a renowned carver." He and his wife have a 13-year-old daughter, Cathy.

Mr. Stram said he probably excels at carving because for more than 25 years he has taught machine tool technology, which requires an enormous amount of work with his hands.

Many of his friends like his work, and he has several commissions to carve decoys for them.

Many of Mr. Stram's ideas come from carvings he buys, sees in magazines and from photographs he takes. He also hunts ducks and has them mounted in poses he might like to duplicate.

Mr. Stram carves three different types of decoys: gunning decoys, used for hunting; decorative gunning decoys; and decorative decoys. Most of the decoys are made from tupelo wood, a lightweight, light-colored wood.

The gunning decoys are simple, carved pieces of wood or cork that float in the water to attract ducks. Mr. Stram said they are simple to make, and he usually does four to five at a time in about a month.

The decorative gunning decoys are similar to the gunning decoys in style, but the details, such as the feathers, are painted on the bird. The carvings, called decorative slicks or smoothies, emphasize the painting aspect of the craft. The goal is to make the carving look as real as possible without spending time carving details. The painting often takes months.

pTC The decorative decoys take about one year to complete, Mr. Stram said. The wood is carved to the general shape of the bird, but fine details also are carved.

Mr. Stram uses a tool similar to a dentist's drill to shape each feather. The drill turns at 50,000 rpm and uses a variety of bits to make different kinds of cuts. The holes for the eyes are carved out, and colored glass spheres are placed in the sockets. Every detail is precise, including the nostril and eye placement.

Judges rate the decoys on how they float in water and how similar they are to their real-life counterparts; whether the decoy can right itself when placed in water; and general appearance.

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