Laurel Dabbs

Waterford Landmark Artisan

Crudely fashioned or exquisitely detailed, decoys provided a means of luring migratory waterfowl close enough to be an important staple in the diet of the Colonists, whose early years were harsh before crops became established. My gunning decoys start as eight-foot planks of white cedar, winter-cut and air-dried for at least two years. Sitting on my carving bench, I demonstrate every technique in a step-by-step process that shows a decoy’s progress from start to finish. Using antique handtools (a hatchet, mallet and gouge, spokeshave and carving knife), the head is doweled for strength before being attached to the hollowed-out body. Durable house paint assures a sturdy finish that stands up to the rigors of field use, and inletted lead makes sure the decoy self-rights in choppy water or sits nicely on a mantel. The tradition and history of my work are as important to me as the style and form of my carvings, as each decoy must be seaworthy and durable, as well as beautiful.