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Wildfowl Art Classic boasts award-winning carvers

Bob Mathews, of Fair Oaks, poses with a partially craved bird decoy in his wood workshop in Fair Oaks on July 7, 2016. Mathews has been carving for 42 years and has won numerous awards for his art.
Bob Mathews, of Fair Oaks, poses with a partially craved bird decoy in his wood workshop in Fair Oaks on July 7, 2016. Mathews has been carving for 42 years and has won numerous awards for his art. ehiller@sacbee.com

In the center of the Pacific Flyway, a migration highway for birds, Sacramento is hosting hundreds of wildlife and bird-decoy enthusiasts this weekend at the annual Pacific Flyway Decoy Association 46th annual Classic Wildfowl Art Classic.

In addition to about 25 competitions for decorative and hunting decoys, the event at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sacramento is a chance for carvers from throughout the West Coast to exchange ideas and tips on one of the oldest American art forms.

“Decoys come from no other culture,” said carver Jim Burcio, a member of the decoy association’s board of directors. “It’s uniquely American; that’s why you can walk into so many people’s homes and see a decoy on the shelf. It’s part of our heritage.”

Decoy carving was adapted by settlers from American Indian techniques they observed, and was popularized in Ocean City, Md., where the world championship is held every year, Burcio said.

With the invention of plastics in the 1930s, decoy art became less popular. A collection of artists brought carving to the West Coast to carry on the tradition.

Now, Highway 50 connects the two flyways, beginning in Sacramento and ending in Ocean City.

Artists can spend tens or hundreds of hours on a bird entered into competitions. Brock Hinton of Granite Bay spent about 800 hours on a red-tailed hawk he entered into the world championship.

As a dentist, he completes one or two birds a year, whereas professional carvers can complete about 10 animals a year. Luckily, his job is so similar to his hobby that Hinton never gets rusty.

“The skill set is a lot the same, whether I’m carving teeth or carving feathers,” Hinton said.

Hinton said the event provides a great introduction for beginners, with workshops for adults and interactive classes for children.

Award-winning carver Bob Mathews of Fair Oaks began carving and bird-watching as a child. Bird-watching has been passed down through his family; his relatives have their own “life list” of birds they hope to spot.

He studied under master carver Chet Wilcox and is using his talents to teach an adult education class in carving.

“It was jut kind of a release for me. You have to concentrate so hard on the details and birds so that it becomes totally realistic,” Matthews said. “Your other business life kind of just goes away for a while. It was kind of my therapy.”

Many carvers keep most of their pieces, instead of selling them or taking up commission work. But classics and competitions provide them a chance to showcase their work and engage others in the craft.

Marjorie Kirk: 916-321-1012, @marjorie_kirk

Pacific Flyway Decoy Association 46th annual Classic Wildfowl Art Classic

Where: DoubleTree Hotel, 2001 Point West Way, Sacramento

When: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $5, free for children 11 and younger

Info: www.pacificflyway.org

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