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Carving out his niche: Hingham man to teach decoy-carving class third year in a row

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 9, 2011 12:06 PM

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Some of Mosher's carvings, including a Red Breasted Merganser, Long billed Curlew & Cape Cod style Yellow Legs

Hingham resident Bob Mosher will again set his decoy-making talents to work at a woodcarving class on Aug. 13 and 20, where he will teach about a dozen locals the fading art of crafting birds from blocks of wood.

Mosher has taught the class, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and administered by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, Md., for the past two years. The only decoy-carver in Massachusetts to be chosen for this project, Mosher views the selection as an honor.

“I’m not surprised that they only take one carver from Massachusetts. They are trying to spread this along the coast. But I’m surprised they picked me three years in a row,” Mosher said.

The Hingham native initially became involved in carving decoys, or wooden birds used to lure live birds into a field for hunting, when he was in high school.

He recalled his uncle’s rig strung up with the wooden creatures as they went out to hunt, and soon thereafter started carving decoys for himself.

“I was always intrigued by them. I always thought they were very beautiful,” Mosher said. “So I started making decoys, cause [my uncle] was smart enough not to let us take the good ones unless we were with him.”

The hobby has turned into a passion that has since garnered Mosher recognition throughout the South Shore.

According to a release, Mosher’s work has appeared in a number of major decoy auctions and has been displayed at the Duxbury Art Complex Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art.

He has given decoy-carving demonstrations at the Mass Audubon Visual Art Center during their prestigious A. Elmer Crowell Exhibition and at the Peabody Essex Museum at the unveiling of the 2011 Massachusetts Duck Stamp.

This most recent program “Carving out Future Decoy Makers” is an attempt to get other locals involved in a truly American art form, with the hopes that the tradition continues.

“It’s not a dying craft, but it’s a craft that there are not a lot of people that make working style decoys,” Mosher said.

According to the artist, although there are many New England carvers who focus on birds, many tend more towards realistic carvings. Decoys are meant to be representational, in the way that an impressionistic painting is.

What’s more is that sections of the Eastern coast maintain their own styles, so that decoy carving in Canada and Maine looks very different from that of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“I think that’s why [the National Endowment for the Arts] split the program out throughout the country,” Mosher said.

Now, as one of 16 instructors nationally, Mosher will teach his class of 8-10 students the art of carving birds. The hands on class will feature a step-by-step carving of a shore bird, although shore birds in particular can no longer be legally hunted.

Students will come to the class from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 13 and will come back on Aug. 20 at the same time to learn how to paint it.

Although it’s merely an introduction, usually half the students go on to carve decoys seriously, Mosher said.

“It takes about a year to get to where you know enough to just handle something yourself and it comes out alright,” he said. “Over a period of time you get better, and I’m sure after a period of time you peak and get worse, but I don’t think I’ve hit that point yet.”

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