LAKE PLACID – Two St. Lawrence County residents have found artistic expression in duck decoy making.
Richard Dick J. Hollis, born and raised in Ogdensburg, learned at age 13 the art of fishing, hunting and duck decoy carving from his father, William Hollis.
I attribute much of my success and artistic ability to my father, Mr. Hollis said. Using my fathers patterns, I started carving miniature decoys and soon after, that led to my carving life-sized decoys for my own hunting rig. That rig consisted of whistlers, broadbills, and black ducks.
When he was 17, Mr. Holliss father took him to his first decoy competition, the Clayton Decoy and Wildlife Art Show, where he encountered the works of other carvers.
I realized then that my carvings were of competitive quality, and this opened up a whole new world of references for me, said Mr. Hollis. Thus began my career of decoy competition.
Over the last 40 years, Mr. Hollis has successfully competed in shows all over the United States and Canada, earning recognition and hundreds of awards and ribbons, including several best of show awards for his decoys. His career led him to carve and compete with decorative waterfowl, which has also earned him recognition. He has attended every Clayton Decoy and Wildlife Art Show since his father took him at 17.
During his lifetime, Mr. Hollis estimated that hes made over 2,000 carvings, including miniatures.
Depending if it is a smooth, easy bird, I have made a whole decoy in a day before, he said. I am slow painter, but it typcially takes me probably 40 to 50 hours or more for each one.
The process is slow and sometimes painstaking, but extremely rewarding, Mr. Hollis said.
I guess I have always really liked doing it, he said. It gives me peace of mind, I like a finished product. Some people like sewing knitting and carving; its comforting. I guess I dont have a real good reason except I just love it to death.
He said his favorite decoy to carve is the American goldeneye, also known as the whistler.
I think its only because growing up here the hunting was really good, Mr. Hollis said. This part of the river had those species of duck. Theyre a fast-flying duck, a fast-diving duck and the most challenging to hunt. It was also my dad and my grandfathers favorite.
Mr. Hollis and his wife, Joanna, have two grown daughters, Carrie and Tammy, a son-in-law, Bob, and two grandsons, Liam and Lennon.
It is my hope to someday pass down my love of carving to my grandsons, said Mr. Hollis.
Like Mr. Hollis, Zachary Zach P. Benson of Canton carved his first decoy at age 13 out of necessity.
I have been carving decoys for 10 years, said Mr. Benson. I wanted carve decoys that werent readily available through manufacturers. And it became a way for me to merge my love of arts and the outdoors.
Mr. Benson said he learned how to carve from a neighbor.
When I was 13, growing up outside of Albany, I mowed lawns and did yard work for a neighbor, and he gave me lessons in carving in exchange for all the work I did, Mr. Benson said. My love of carving was rekindled when I graduated from SUNY Potsdam in 2002.
Former winner of The Peoples Choice Award at the Oregon Waterfowl Festival, and Best of Show at the Art Knapp Decoy Competition in Clayton, Mr. Benson said he has begun to move away from the competition aspect of decoy making.
Mr. Bensons decoys have lately depicted emotion and movement of the species. Competitions are hindering the progression of the decoy as an art form, he said.
[Carving] made me observe so much more, Mr. Benson said. It made me look at things so much closer and pay attention to colors, and it is so rewarding.
Like Mr. Hollis, Mr. Benson finds the goldeneye species is his favorite to carve.
They are difficult to decoy, he said. Its challenging to carve a bird that I consider so regal.
He said it was creating a goldeneye, that Mr. Benson found his lifes passion. He even named his familys bed and breakfast The Whistlers Inn, after the bird.
I just wanted to be able to figure the best way to hunt this species of duck on the lake, he said. Decoy carving keeps me in the hunt all year long.
Mr. Bensons and Mr. Holliss works are currently on exhibit at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts Gallery entitled, In the Air and on the Water: The Magic World of Bird and Wildfowl Art. The exhibit is open until Aug. 18. Admission is free.
Mr. Hollis said he expects the medium and popularity of decoys to last a long time.
Me and my friends talk about how popular the art will be years from now, said Mr. Hollis. Things might slack off decoy business for a year or two or three, but so far it has always rebounded and rebounded good. Decoys are still very popular and very valuable.