ALEXANDRIA BAY — Glenn Sweet, a third-generation carver, made his first duck decoy when he was 10 years old under the tutelage of his grandfather.
At 13, Mr. Sweet began making and selling his decoys professionally. After decades of building a following in Northern New York, Mr. Sweet says he seldom advertises his work these days.
“Somebody will come in and buy a couple, and then they tell someone else,” Mr. Sweet said. “Then they come in and buy some.”
Beyond word of mouth, it is exhibitions like this weekend’s annual Dingman Point River Artists Open Studio Tour and the Decoy/Wildlife Art & Sporting Collectibles Show that bring in business for Mr. Sweet.
“Typically, buyers come to the studio after the show thinking they will get a better deal,” Mr. Sweet said with a smile. “But I always charge them the same.”
Mr. Sweet said he always has two things on his mind this time of year: the back-to-back exhibitions. The Decoy/Wildlife Art & Sporting Collectibles Show was held July 18 and 19 at Cerow Recreation Park Arena in Clayton. Coming up on Saturday and Sunday will be the 19th annual Dingman Point River Artists Tour.
The tour is an opportunity for the public to visit, meet and talk with artists from Northern New York. Original work and new limited edition works from each artist are exhibited and for sale.
Mr. Sweet has been a part of the Dingman Point River Artists Tour for 15 years.
“He’s a great carver, very well-respected,” said tour co-organizer Cecilia M. Thompson. “You can see that respect by the number of orders.”
Mr. Sweet had about 50 duck decoys on order in the days leading up to the show in Clayton. The weeks leading up to the Decoy/Wildlife Art & Sporting Collectibles Show yield a large portion of his annual work orders.
“I did 550 of them one year,” Mr. Sweet said. “This year I’ve probably done 250.”
The duck decoys Mr. Sweet makes are carved out of white cedar bodies with basswood heads and oak heels. Depending on the type of duck being made, the carver uses machinery or does the entire decoy by hand. Machine-made decoys typically sell for $100, while hand-carved ducks, which are higher quality and take longer to produce, start at $300.
For machinery ducks, Mr. Sweet makes a master of each duck by hand and then uses a duplicator to hollow out each decoy. He uses a sander on the machinery decoys but always finishes each decoy with hand sanding. Never air-brushing, he paints all of his ducks by hand, meaning he can spend just as long painting one of his decoys as it takes him to carve one.
He said traditional hunters are loyal to the process — investing in wooden decoys, carved and painted by hand. The modern trend to use plastic decoys, however, has been problematic for Mr. Sweet’s business.
“Plastic is my biggest competition,” Mr. Sweet said. “Most hunters use plastic, but if you take care of them, the wood will last you forever. Traditionalists use wood. They take a shot better than plastic, I’ll tell you that.”
Mr. Sweet also repairs decoys. He said he is careful, though, on who he makes repairs for, as some have taken advantage of his repairs in the past.
“They’ll buy a bird for 50 or 60 bucks at an auction,” Mr. Sweet said. “I fix it and then they sell it for 300 or 400 dollars. When someone comes in looking to make money, I can tell. When someone drops their duck and needs it fixed, that doesn’t bother me. But I take before-and-after pictures so I can let future buyers know it’s not an original.”
In 2007, Mr. Sweet won Best in Show in the Gunning Pairs division at the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition and Art Festival in Maryland. In competitions such as these, Mr. Sweet has won ribbons in New York, Michigan, Ohio and other states against hundreds of carvers. He keeps most of the ribbons in a plastic case in his shop.
“Ribbons are nice, shows are nice, but I’d rather make the ducks to hunt with,” Mr. Sweet said. “When I’m not making the ducks, I’m hunting.”
Mr. Sweet has been happy to spend as many years with the Dingman Point River Artists Tour as he has, working with “characters” like artist Sherman Ward, 92.
“He’s a little different but a good guy,” Mr. Sweet said. “He’s doing a painting now of a guy on a bicycle that’s awesome. How in the hell does he get the spokes that straight?”
The studios of Mr. Sweet and Mr. Ward, as well as painters Donna Hammond, Mary Compeau, Michael Ringer and the late Hans Junga, and jeweler Mary Mitchell, will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. There are raffles and refreshments at each stop of the tour.
Mr. Junga’s vast portfolio of prints and note cards will be available at his studio hosted by his son Hans K. Junga. Ingrid Junga, a porcelain potter, also will show her work at the Junga studio.
Mr. Sweet’s studio will feature guest artist, painter Robert Decker.
As Mr. Ward’s health has declined in his later years, his wife and co-tour organizer Ann B. Ward have had to gradually delegate the responsibility of planning the tour to Mrs. Thompson.
Mrs. Thompson said she is happy she’s been able to free Mrs. Ward’s mind of all the duties of planning the tour this summer, and credits the artists she is working with for making the job easier.
“Everybody has been great about sharing the workload,” Mrs. Thompson said. “Ann knew she was going to hand it off to me and that has given me plenty of time to adjust.”
Mrs. Thompson will show her miniatures at the Ward studio.
“This is an opportunity to see the studios and get a feel for the artwork,” Mrs. Thompson said. “This is not a department store. I don’t know if everyone realizes that there is such wonderful talent in Northern New York.”
WHAT: 19th annual Dingman Point River Artists Tour (no cost)
WHEN/WHERE: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at artists’ studios along Dingman Point in Alexandria Bay
DIRECTIONS: From Route 12 at Alexandria Bay, turn toward the river on Walton Street, then right on Old Goose Bay Road, past Dingman Point Road 0.1 mile to the studios of Donna Hammond, Mary Compeau, the late Hans Junga and Glenn Sweet. Return to Dingman Point Road and go 0.6 mile to Michael Ringer’s St. Lawrence Gallery and Mary Mitchell’s studio, as well as the river-view home, studio and gallery of Sherman Ward.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call Cecilia Thompson at 777-3385 or Anne Ward at 482-5954.