Deconstructing Decoys Exhibition

A new exhibition in the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s Waterfowling building, “Deconstructing Decoys: The Culture of Collecting,” will open to the public on Saturday, April 13.

 What makes a decoy “collectible?” How do you distinguish a Susquehanna Flats duck from a Chincoteague carvers’ work? Buying and selling carved and painted wooden waterfowl, once used simply as tools for hunting, evolved from a simple interest in and admiration for folk art to a distinct collecting field with an established market. “Deconstructing Decoys” will explore varying perspectives about decoys as art and will help guests understand how collectors “read” a decoy to determine its maker, its history, and its significance. Today, the number of casual collectors and savvy connoisseurs who attend swaps, shows, and sales may very well exceed the number of gunners who venture into blinds on icy winter mornings, transforming the role of waterfowling within Chesapeake Bay culture.

“Visitors might be surprised to learn that valuing decoys for their craftsmanship and rarity, rather than just their practical application, is not a new practice,” said Associate Curator of Collections Jenifer Dolde, who is curating the exhibition. “The first collectors began accumulating waterfowl carvings as ‘folk art’ even as gunners were still shooting over them. The evolution from working decoy to decorative decoy certainly was not linear.”

“Deconstructing Decoys: The Culture of Collecting” is generously sponsored by Judy and Henry Stansbury and the world’s leading decoy auction firm, Guyette & Deeter. Entry to the exhibition is free for CBMM members or with general admission. The exhibition will close at CBMM on November 1 before traveling to the Waterfowl Festival in Easton on November 8 through 10.

The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to preserving and exploring the history, environment, and culture of the entire Chesapeake Bay region, and making this resource available to all. Every aspect of fulfilling this mission is driven by CBMM’s values of relevancy, authenticity, and stewardship, along with a commitment to providing engaging guest experiences and transformative educational programming, all while serving as a vital community partner. For more information, visit or call 410-745-2916.

This rare Tundra Swan decoy, made by Samuel Barnes or James Holly of Havre de Grace, is one of a very small series of swan decoys by this maker, c. 1890. Gift of Mrs. Sifford Pearre. Collection of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
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