Thursday, March 21, 2019

2018-2019 Apprenticeship Spotlight: Fred Dolan and Paul Spencer, Decoy Carving and Painting


Originally designed as simple and utilitarian in form, Decoys, or “working birds,” were used throughout North America to lure birds in range of hunters. Usually carved out of cedar and weighted with lead for balance, decoys were suited to local hunting methods and specific bird species of the region. Like many of our living traditions, the tradition of decoys evolved in result of the passing of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. This Act prohibited the hunting of over 800 species of migratory birds, which in turn made the demand for decoys decrease. With the lack of “demand,”
Photo: Calling Mallard by Fred Dolan.
Photo submitted by Fred Dolan.
decoy carvers moved from creating simple utilitarian decoys to decorative decoys, in which carvers executed decoys as beautiful portraits of the birds. This iteration of the tradition towards artistic excellence in techniques of carving the sculptural form and painting the sheer beauty of the bird transitioned decoys from their simple, functional form to works of fine craftsmanship and treasured pieces of folk art. Like many generations of master craftsmen and carvers that have shared and passed on their knowledge and skills in the tradition, Fred Dolan has dedicated his life to the mastery of this tradition and sharing his knowledge and skills with others.

Photo: Merganser by Paul Spencer.
Photo submitted by Paul Spencer.
During their 2018-2019 Apprenticeship, Fred Dolan and Paul Spencer will be researching the works of early Master Decoy Carvers, regional style differences, design techniques pertaining to materials and tools and will study basic bird anatomy and topography. As Paul has had previous experience in decoy carving, the team will be creating a Rocking Head Decoy, an innovative style developed by Master Carver Gus Wilson (1864-1950).
“As the state of New Hampshire develops and habitat is lost, I fear that this cultural tradition could be threatened. I strongly believe that our history and culture need to be commemorated and preserved. I take great pleasure in passing on my own knowledge and skills to emerging carvers.” –Master Artist Fred Dolan on why it is important to preserve this tradition in New Hampshire.
This year the NH State Council on the Arts supported by the National Endowment of the Arts was able to fund a total of five Master-Apprentice teams working to preserve and share the knowledge of Decoy Carving & Painting, Russian Icon Painting, Letterpress Printing, Accordion Music of New England and Scotland, and Blacksmithing, specifically focusing on pre-industrial handmade locks. We will be highlighting each of the five Apprenticeship teams in our "Apprenticeship Spotlight" series.
 Apprenticeship grants fund a master traditional artist to teach a qualified apprentice in one-to-one sessions over a period of six to ten months. Traditional arts and folklife – including crafts, music, dance, and foodways -  are passed down from one generation to the next within communities through observation, conversation, imitation and practice and are an important part of our living cultural heritage.