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Gus Wilson Turned Head Black Duck Decoy, Maine, circa 1930s
Classic Gus Wilson turned head black duck decoy, South Portland Maine, circa 1930s, beautiful rough hewn gunning decoy by Maine's great Augustus Aaron Wilson (1864 - 1950), having the head set at alert angle turned strongly to left side, slightly cocked as well, with his carved and painted eyes, scribed nares and mandible, characteristic Y carving to underside of bill, strongly inlet neck, carved raised wingtips and paddle tail; in original dark brown paint with yellow-green eyes and bill, and black wing patches.; small flat lead weight nailed to bottom, and having a screw eye line tie. The decoy is in great condition for an old working bird: there are cracks and broad splinters original to the block and beneath the paint, several knots, some loose, some chips, a nibble at the tip of the bill, a very few shot scars, and a tiny bit of paint drip. All in all, a very typical Wilson decoy. Wilson was a very frugal Yankee and used reclaimed wood... odd and end cast off chunks and blocks he found and gathered for free. The nature of his raw material shows through in the final product, and his decoys usually have age check, splinters, knotholes and wood loss. A rustic sculptor, he whittled his "hand chopped" decoys with a hand ax. In spite of the Primitive carving and simplest of paint jobs, he found sublime expression in his posturing and facial expression. Most every decoy he carved tended to have the heads cocked more or less to the side, and turned at some angle, occasionally even all the way backwards in a preening or sleeping position. Just a few chops with a hatchet and his wooden blocks came to life, oozing attitude. And when set afloat they come to life, ready to quack, take flight or snap your finger off if you reached too close. Gus Wilson is justifiably known as one of Maine's greatest folk artists, and one of the finest decoy makers from any region of the country. Gus Wilson was born 8 September 1864 in the small town of Tremont on Mount Desert Island. He spent his entire life along the coast of Maine, working variously as a Waterman, boat builder, fisherman and sportsman, and supplemented his income by selling handcrafted decoys. He joined the Lighthouse Service at the age of 50 and tended the Goose Rocks Light on Fox Island in Penobscot Bay, the Two Lights Station at Cape Elizabeth, and Spring Point Light in Casco Bay. He passed away on 20 June 1950 at the age of 83. Throughout his life as a longshoreman Gus Wilson carved and whittled: in a career spanning over a half century he is thought to have made up to five thousand decoys (Kangas, 2008), including many dozens of miniatures and decorative bird carvings, and quite a few tigers, snakes and other fanciful critters and figures. He was a man of talent and imagination, and possessed a whimsical desire to experiment.
Measures: 6 1/2 in H x 16 3/4 in L x 7 in W.