WORKSPACE- November + December 2010
Photograph by Meggan Gould
Walter Simmons carves duck decoys and builds boats in his Lincolnville workshop. Adjacent is Duck Trap Decoys, a store where his wife, Karen, sells Walter’s carvings as well as those of sixty other carvers.
Reference books help Simmons convincingly render the form and coloration of each individual bird species. The carver is as familiar with avian anatomy as any ornithologist. “You don’t realize how little you know about a bird until you try to duplicate it in wood,” he explains.
The detail of each carving depends on its intended use as either a functional decoy or realistic decorative sculpture. Using a chainsaw and a band saw, Simmons begins each bird as a crude form and finishes it with fine chisels and knives, depending on the level of detail needed. The feathers of his realistic birds can require as many as eighty fine lines per inch. “There are a dizzying array of chisels available,” Simmons says.
Simmons began decoy carving with a pocketknife as a young boy. His grandfather, a carpenter who taught Simmons to carve, drew this rendition of the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” while recuperating from an accident. Boats and birds share the workshop space equally; Simmons specializes in wherries, a type of traditional wooden workboat. Ballast for the decoys is provided by lead slugs that are cast from wheel weights and inserted into the keel of each decoy.
This trio of snipes awaits painting, which, according to Simmons, constitutes “about 50 percent of the job.” He will begin with a dark base stain and work from dark to light using a panoply of paints.
A duck’s bill is nestled into its back feathers in the common “turn-back” decoy posture to “give the birds coming in the impression that they are at rest or at peace.” Turn-back carvings also have a pragmatic advantage: they sustain less bill damage. Simmons spends a substantial amount of his time repairing decoys for hunters, mainly fixing damage from dogs, shots, or mice. “It takes years to build up the right mix of ducks, so you protect what you’ve got. You want to have a convincing spread,” Simmons says.
Simmons won one of his very first carving competitions with this female pintail. “I keep it up there to remind myself what I did when I started so that I’m not too critical.”
Duck Trap Decoys | Lincolnville | ducktrapdecoys.com | 207.789.5363