CLAYTON — Duck decoys are more than just an aid to hunters; they're works of art, according to carver Glenn Sweet. As owner of the Thousand Islands Decoy Co., Alexandria Bay, Mr. Sweet knows the hard work and craftsmanship that go into each decoy, but he said interest in them is something that has been declining over the years.
“It's a dying art, for sure,” he said. “There's not as many people doing it. That's what everyone did for income, but now it's a hobby. The old decoys are now collectible, functional art.”
Hundreds of decoys were on display during the 44th annual Decoy and Wildlife Art Show on Friday and Saturday at the Gordon Cerow Recreation Park Arena, 615 East Line Road.
While there are many area decoy enthusiasts, Mr. Sweet said, they're aging and he's not sure how the hand-carved tradition will continue if people of younger generations don't pick up the hobby.
One of the many decoy contests throughout the event restored a little of Mr. Sweet's faith in younger generations, as 19-year-old Luke Costilow from Ohio won the 2012 Best of Show decoy award. Mr. Costilow also received a $750 prize for his craftsmanship.
One decoy contest was named in honor of Mr. Sweet's son, Pfc. Jack T. Sweet, 19, Alexandria Bay, an infantryman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment. Pfc. Sweet was killed Feb. 8, 2008, near Jawwalah, Iraq, when his vehicle was hit by a bomb.
Mr. Sweet said he carved his first decoy when he was 10 years old, and hasn't stopped since. Depending on how many orders he gets through his business, he'll use the assistance of a machine for mass orders or hand-carve them if orders are small enough.
“My grandpa did it, and my uncle did it,” he said Saturday at the event. “I'm a third-generation carver; it's in my blood.”
Making the best decoy is simple, Mr. Sweet said — just capture the essence of the bird. Many crafters use taxidermied ducks as references, he said, to get the utmost accuracy in the details.
“The quicker you can make them, the better,” Mr. Sweet said. “You can make more, then hunt more.”
About 1,500 people from across the nation were expected to attend the event over the weekend. Mr. Sweet said people come from as far away as Illinois and throughout the Northeast.
Decoys were mailed in to the event just for the three contests, which were held Friday and Saturday.
Show proceeds will go to the Thousand Islands Museum.
Linda M. Ferguson, owner of Ferguson Decoys, Woodville, said her hand-carved pieces are used as nice mantel decorations. They range from $225 to $300, depending on the details of each decoy.
Having owned a decoy business since 1980, Mrs. Ferguson said, she's seen gradually declining interest in the hobby.
“I have 10 kids, but I don't know if any will get into it,” she said. Her grown children range in age from 32 to 41.