june-paints-owl Left: Here’s June, the Paintmeister at das Hamonhaus, painting one of Bill’s many Owls that she’s painted since taking up bird-painting in 1988. Actually, she’s painted all of the birds that I’ve carved including the Cardinal carved in my “Beginner’s” Class in 1988. June was a graduate of a two-year course of study at Cincinnati’s Central Commercial Art Academy and, an accomplished artist,  long before I took up woodcarving in 1988. At her suggestion, I looked into and enrolled in a beginner’s class in woodcarving in Dayton, OH. During my earliest lessons, she commented to me to “not” expect her to paint my birds. In class, I was in the process of carving a bird. I replied that “it had not entered my mind to ask for her assistance”. I had been a credible artist all during my school days too; doodling, drawing cartoons, etc.  However; she accompanied me to the final beginner’s Session#10, which was to paint the Cardinal. Her curiousity had gotten the better of her and she had decided to come along with me and observe the class. My version of this tale, is that she interrupted me, just as I was about to touch paint-to-bird for my very first time, by saying “let me see that”. I meekly handed bird & brush to her and gave her my seat at the paint-table. She had observed that the instructor of the paint class was a bit heavy-handed in her technique and knew she could do better. So, here we are over twenty years later and she’s still at the paint-table and I’ve, never as yet, painted a bird. This is our story and we’re sticking to it. Several months later, I was prevailed upon by fellow students to teach a class myself (10 weeks-free) on carving a Bluejay. I protested but did give in to teach the class. At the end of the ten-weekclass, June pitched in to teach them to paint the carving. Hence, we have continued in like manner, lo these many years. All of the above occured during our first year as Wildfowl Artists, 1988.

carving-class-2005-009Left: June teaching at her workshop in KY. Long before we came along, over two hundred years ago in fact, Hunters hunted wild game as a means to earn their livings; shooting animals and game-birds for their own provisioning as well as to sell to food markets and restaurants, hotels, etc.  A few of the hunters learned (probably from the Indians) that they could shoot more ducks and geese by utilizing floating decoys to draw-in the flocks from the air. The decoys would be roughly hewn from wood to resemble the birds flying overhead. The flocks would alight on the water nearby to the floating decoys and be “bagged” by the hunters. Basically, the carved decoys were “chopped” with a hatchett-like tool called an “Adze”. With practice, the hunters chopping these decoys from rough wood developed a form of production line by shaping the decoy with the adze and tossing it onto a nearby pile. Their spouse would dab dark pitch tar or paint to resemble eyes, add a coat of varnish and place them on another pile nearby to dry. The hunter/carver would finish the process by attaching the keels, weights, kleats and  rope with which they became a “string of decoys”. Some hunters developed  reputations for excelling in the catving and manufacture of these decoys. Eventually  informal competitions ensued between the more talented in given areas; hence, “Decorative Wildfowl Carvings” was born. And so, here we are today! Speaking personally, I’ve not been tvery empted to “do” ducks! I feel that there are Duck Carver’s galore and too few who can carve a decent Eagle!  My whole point of this yarn, is about the wife’s role in the process. For over several centuries now, it’s a sub-tradition in woodcarving of all genres; maybe, especially in birds for the spouses to collaborate on the carvings, involving often, the wife as paint-artist and the husband as carver. It would be even more widespread, I opine, if men carvers had more influence over their better halves.     Since there exists today, so many couples who do this, I was finally prompted to pose this pseudo-issue to a world-class bird carver/judge/teacher/author, last year. His response was that, as a Judge, he has no problem with it. His criteria is that the “same team” remains consistant and that a special (ringer) painter, not be brought in to assist just for a competition. He mentioned that this situation is not unusal at all. It has regulary occured in the World Championships, as well as “everywhere” else! 

Happy birding and carving,  Bill

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