Decoy Carving hosted by the Newark Valley Historical Society

Decoy Carving hosted by the Newark Valley Historical Society

A Green Wing Teal models for the Mini Decoy workshop. Carving by Bill Underwood of Endwell.

On Saturday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m. 5 p.m., Bill Underwood, master carver, will present a workshop on decoy carving. The cost is $35, and $32 for members. All materials and tools will be supplied including a carving tool, glove, and a 7-inch blank.

See beautiful examples, the use of an airbrush, and the operation of some power tools. Participants are asked to bring their own lunch. The class is open to all, with ages under 16 accompanied by an adult. Scholarships are available.

RSVP by Sept. 14 to (607) 642-5412. The workshop will take place at Bement-Billings Farmstead located at 9241 Rt. 38 in Newark Valley, N.Y. and is  sponsored by the Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes/NYSCA-Dec, and the Newark Valley Historical Society.

View Bill Underwood’s work at or visit the Newark Valley Historical Society website at

Decoy carving is a unique American art form that can be traced back to American Indian roots. The earliest forms were feathers and skins tied to sticks or reeds and set onto the mud flats in feeding areas and migratory pathways.

They have been used by groups and individuals for hundreds of years to draw birds into range of their weapons, e.g. bows/arrows, slings, throwing sticks and guns.

These early decoys were carved in small numbers at first to satisfy the needs of an individual or small group of hunters. They were rough and were probably not painted as game was abundant and their needs were limited.

This all changed in the early nineteenth century when the depression hit and demand for wild game increased. This gave rise to the creation of the market hunter and increased the demand for decoys.

These hunters needed large spreads of hundreds of decoys in order to draw large migrating flock into gun range. These market hunters killed birds such as geese, ducks, and shore birds by the thousands as they rested during their migration on the bays and estuaries. They used large punt guns that were like small cannons loaded with almost anything that they could find (nails) and mounted them in pits or skiffs. They used some of the birds for their own use but the vast majority was sold to city restaurants. This became a large percentage of livelihoods until game laws were enacted. Hot spots were in the coastal areas along the Chesapeake Bay and marshes in migration routes.

The Ward Museum in Salisbury, Md. is a great location to see the history of market hunting decoy construction and tools used in this art form.

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