Lynda Goff recently put the finishing touches on her latest masterpiece: a 16-inch, hand-carved wooden bird with its feathers meticulously painted that she has been laboring on for the past year.
Goff, of Davis, will be one of about 500 contestants competing this weekend at the Pacific Flyway Decoy Associations 44th annual Classic Wildfowl Art Festival and one of several thousand attendees who show up annually. And organizers anticipate a crowd larger than last years 2,000 visitors, based on the upward climb in the popularity of wildlife art since the early 2000s, said association spokesman Jim Burcio.
The festival at Sacramentos DoubleTree Hotel is the largest wildfowl art showcase on the West Coast and is one of the major ways the nonprofit association educates the public about decoy culture. Organizers hope to spur interest in a once-dying art through competitions, workshops, exhibits and sales. The decoy is indigenous, which accounts for part of the art forms appeal in the country, Burcio said. In Sacramento and across California, the Pacific Flyway is a favorite among locals.
Decoys dont come from any culture, any other continent, Burcio said.
In keeping with the festivals traditional bent, the duck will be the centerpiece, especially at antique collectors booths.
But the two-day event will also showcase an expanded, contemporary decoy display. Since the inaugural competition in 1971, the repertoire has evolved from purely ducks to North American birds to birds from all over the world, including the South American toucan and African bee-eater.
Just as the art subjects are diversifying, so is the audience. While hunters comprised the entire crowd during the shows infancy, many of the most faithful followers now have not shot at waterfowl, according to organizers.
Goff is a retired marine biology professor, whose career focused around wildlife conservation. Her career is reflected in her entry of a full-size raptor, which nearly became extinct from unchecked shooting in the 1930s and other man-made pressures, but has begun to repopulate to the relief of conservationists.
I love comeback stories on bird species, and I thought I would do honor to this bird by carving it, Goff said.
But even for hunters like Brad Snodgrass, decoys have become less about killing.
When a tight budget and a need to hunt inspired him to carve his own decoys, he said he followed the natural progression from hunter to carver.
Having reached the status of professional, award-winning decoy artist, when he does hunt, it is with the objective of obtaining a reference specimen for his next piece.
(Hunting) is more about the environment youre in, the friends you have and the species youre pursuing, he said.
This weekend, Snodgrass will enter 15 pieces that he carved in the past year. Depending on the complexity, a piece can take him anywhere from 40 to 200 hours of work.
The level of detail, from coloration to feather pattern, almost seems impractical in the context of decoys origin in hunting. Game fowl fly at such high speeds that they can rarely detect any inaccuracies in the fakes, said Snodgrass. Carvers need only to achieve a baseline in either color or pattern depending on the bird to successfully lure in their prey.
So why do it? For Goff, the art is therapeutic. Snodgrass said he thinks of his childhood when he carves.
Also, there is a financial reward. Complexly designed decoys can bring in as much as $4,000 each.
But carvers said that even the best price does not fully compensate them for the labor theyve put in.
We dont do it for the money but for the love of the species, Goff said.
Money does matter, however, for collectors.
Serious buyers can spend upward of $250,000 per piece at auctions. That willingness is more common along the Atlantic seaboard, where enthusiasts say decoy culture is more zealous.
Paul Mazzilli, a 68-year-old Stockton resident and antique consultant at the Sacramento show, said such costly pieces will not be at this weekends event.
Instead, the show will feature works starting anywhere from $50 to $1,500, depending on the maker, condition, and complexity, he said.
This weekends show includes educational workshops for kids ages 3 to 16 years old that organizers hope will spark their interest in decoys and boost future show attendance, Burcio said.
But even if the event doesnt draw much fresh interest, the carvers are already looking forward to next years show. After putting away this years decoy, Goff was already beginning work on her next piece.
Contact The Bees Vanessa Ochavillo, (916) 326-5510