Nature, History, and Art

Robert Shaw

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Bird Deoxys of North America bt Robert Shaw

Cover photo by Jeff Moore, Jeff Moore Images

The ultimate book on historic bird decoys and carvers of the United States and Canada. The definitive study of the birds, the hunters, and the decoy makers of all the major gunning regions of nineteenth and early twentieth century North America.

Hardcover, 304 pages, with stunning color photographs of more than 300 classic decoys, plus dozens of Audubon bird prints and historic photographs and illustrations.

Featuring extraordinary decoys, many photographed specifically for this book, from the collections of the Brisco Family, Micah Brosnan, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Richard W. Carlson, Clyde Catha, Jonathan and Virginia Chua, Mike Cole, Thomas K. Figge, Ron Gard, Bernie Gates, Russ and Karen Goldberger, Jim Grochowski, Gary and Dale Guyette, Alan and Elaine Haid, Wade Hanks, Ted and Judy Harmon, Paul Tudor Jones II, Gene and Linda Kangas, Gary Lipham, the Long Island Museum, the Malcomb Family, the late James M. McCleery, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Dr. Peter J. Muller, Torrey Riley, Barry Sallinger, the Shelburne Museum, Jamie Stalker, David Teiger, Joe and Donna Tonelli, Cap and Paige Vinal, Roger Young, and many others.

"A compelling read [that] combines natural history, art, and cultural history in one gloriously illustrated book. This belongs on the shelf of every enthusiast of decoys, folk art, or ornithology."
--Brian Cullity, New England Antiques Journal


"A must-have book for all decoy enthusiasts, but also of great value and interest to sportsmen, birders, American history buffs, and folk art enthusiasts. Definitive."
----Stan Van Etten, Editor & Publisher, Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine


"An excellently written and thoughtfully presented introduction to waterfowl decoys ...a book we highly recommend for both longtime collectors and newly interested parties ... we couldn’t think of a better way to organize and present the topic."
Decoy Magazine

back cover


New Book—BIRD DECOYS OF NORTH AMERICA: Nature, History, and Art by Robert Shaw

Bird Decoys of North America: Nature, History, ad Art, a new book by Robert Shaw, is the ultimate reference on a remarkable American art form—the wooden decoy. The 304-page hardcover book is published by Sterling Publishing Inc. in New York, one of the world’s largest publishers of non-fiction titles.

Bird decoys, which were first fashioned by Native American hunter-artists at least 1,500 years ago, are the only major folk art form to originate in North America. Today, decoys made during the heyday of decoy carving—roughly from 1840 to1950—rank among the most avidly sought of all folk art collectibles, with some rare and outstanding examples fetching upwards of $1 million apiece. These humble hunting tools, intended to deceive wildfowl by luring them into shooters’ range, are now appreciated on many levels: as compelling works of sculptural art, as dynamic portraits of living and extinct species, and as irreplaceable historical objects. Successful decoy carvers of the past knew their prey intimately—spending countless hours observing game birds in the wild and then bringing their accumulated knowledge of different species’ appearance and behavior to the carving bench. Because the works these artisans created were meant to attract avian eyes—conveying the essence of a bird’s plumage, form, and attitude at a glance—older handmade decoys are deeper, more carefully observed symbols of living birds than any merely decorative object, no matter how photographically accurate, can be.

In this definitive, lavishly illustrated work, folk art expert Robert Shaw chronicles the now-vanished era in which the great decoy makers pursued their craft. Shaw traces the natural history of North American bird species—more than sixty of which are represented in antique decoys. He relates the history of wildfowl hunting on this continent, detailing the excesses of nineteenth-century commercial hunting and the rise of a conservation movement aimed at ensuring bird species’ long-term survival. He examines the distinctive forms produced in each major hunting area, from the Maritime Provinces of Canada to the Chesapeake Bay to the bayous of Louisiana and beyond. And, with a storyteller’s gift for the entertaining anecdote, Shaw puts us in touch with the lives and circumstances of the decoy makers themselves. Featuring 300 illustrations—including beautifully shot color images of decoys from private and public collections around the United States and Canada, as well as numerous historic paintings, prints, and photographs—the book will appeal to sportsmen, birders, and folk art enthusiasts alike.

Bird Decoys of North America: Nature, History, and Art includes information about and photographs of decoys by major carvers from all the historic hunting regions of the U.S. and Canada. Among the many carvers represented are such renowned figures as John Blair, Thomas Chambers, Nathan Cobb, Elmer Crowell, Robert and Catherine Elliston, Lothrop Holmes, Ira Hudson, Richard “Fresh Air Dick” Janson, Albert Laing, Orel LaBoeuf, Joseph Lincoln, Charles and Edna Perdew, Harry Shourds, John Tax, Nicole Vidocavitch, Lem and Steve Ward, George and James Warin, Charles “Shang” Wheeler, John R. Wells, and Augustus Wilson.

Robert Shaw is the former curator of the Shelburne Museum, which owns the finest and most important public collection of antique bird decoys in the world. He also wrote Call to the Sky, the catalog for the Houston Museum of Natural Science's’ 1992 exhibition of the legendary collection of James M. McCleery, M.D. and was a consultant to Sotheby’s when that collection was sold after Dr. McCleery’s death. In addition to his work at Shelburne, where he organized numerous exhibitions of decoys, Shaw also has curated exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Dallas Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Our National Heritage, and lectured at Sotheby’s, the American Folk Art Museum, and many other institutions. He wrote the introduction and a chapter on collecting for The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys, published in 1990, and has written articles for The Magazine Antiques, Ducks Unlimited Magazine, Sports Afield, Early American Life, and Decoy Magazine. His many other critically acclaimed books include American Quilts: The Democratic Art, 1780-2007, published by Sterling in 2009, American Baskets, and America’s Traditional Crafts.

For more information, contact Robert Shaw.

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