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Illinois hunting and fishing

A name among the Illinois River elite

February 07, 2010 at 02:15 AM

Illinois hunting and fishing

Henry Decoy Show

Outwardly, little will have changed when the 42nd annual Henry Decoy Show takes over Henry-Senachwine High School next Sunday, Feb. 14.

Table after table will display hand-carved duck decoys, game calls, books, folk art and other collectibles. Home-made pie will still summon the weak-willed into the cafeteria. And someone will show up for a free decoy appraisal only to be surprised at how much that old hunk of wood is worth.

But for the first time since 1968, the late Don Clark (pictured above) will not be on hand to make sure all is running smoothly. Clark died last December and this year’s show is being held in his honor.

“Everybody in the decoy collecting arena knew Don Clark,” said Bruce Bauter, who has run the show with his wife Susan since 2005. “He was the heart and soul of this. He loved those birds.”

Show hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children under 12. To learn more call (309) 364-4104.

 

Ken Weeks cringed, then smiled at the memory.

“Yeah, I did shoot some of his decoys,” Weeks said, recalling duck hunts with his father. “He’d always tell me if there’s a (crippled duck) in there, wait until it gets in the clear. But I’d still shoot those decoys.”

Weeks shakes his head. If only there had been an accurate fortune teller in the 1940s, those old wooden decoys would have been treated so much better. Who could know then that the lumps of pine would become iconic pieces of folk art worth thousands of dollars?

Certainly not Weeks, whose father Bob (pictured above in the basement of his Bureau home with a pintail decoy) carved and painted more than 1,000 decoys in a career that spanned two phases. After returning to Bureau in 1924 following World War I, Bob started a life-long hobby by making 24 blocks for a hunting rig (the first of which is pictured below). From then until the 1950s he carved blocks for himself and for other hunters, hollowing out two pieces of clear white pine, gluing them together and then painstakingly painting them.

He also repaired and repainted decoys for the many gun clubs in the duck-crazed Hennepin area. “Our basement from the end of the season to the end of summer was full of decoys,” said Ken, the former Havana superintendent of schools who is retired and lives outside Brimfield. “He’d charge 35 cents to repair a decoy or to put on a new head.”

Occasionally, Bob would also replace a damaged decoy with one of his own blocks. This pleased gun club owners and allowed Bob to collect decoys from a Who’s Who of Illinois River carvers including Robert Elliston, Bert Graves and Charles Perdew.

Illinois hunting and fishing

In fact, a set of 12 Perdew green-winged teal decoys that Bob hunted over for years are still known to collectors as “the Weeks teal” according to decoy expert Donna Tonelli.

After taking a break in the 1950s when plastic decoys became all the rage, Bob carved again until his death in 1978, focusing mostly on miniatures sold at the Ranch House in Bureau.

“But he would never admit he was making a decorative decoy. He always said he was making a hunting decoy. An Illinois River Valley hunting decoy,” said Ken, who also carves and makes pens and duck calls in his spare time. “His goal was to carve five birds per week. But when he died, he was two years behind in orders.”

Some Weeks decoys will no doubt be displayed next Sunday during the 42nd annual Henry Decoy Show. Bob also has dekes at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield and at Lakeview Museum in Peoria.

Though not as well known as Perdew, Graves or Elliston, Bob has a growing reputation as one of the last of the traditional Illinois River carvers. He learned from Henry Holmes of Bureau and was noted for skillful painting, which involved using graining combs to create a feather pattern.

Bob was also known as a skilled duck hunter and praised for the sounds he could make with a Perdew duck call. He did most of his hunting at Bridge Lake or at the Princeton Fish and Game Club. In honor of his father – who is buried overlooking the Illinois River with a sleeping mallard carved on the headstone – Ken assembled a bound collection of pictures, stories and articles about the man he called, “the best father anyone could have.”

One story was of the 1946 season opener, for which Ken was excused from school – provided he could give the principal four dressed ducks. That didn’t take long. Shooting time started at noon and when Bob arrived at 12:10, his youngest son was waiting idly in the blind.

“He asked why I wasn’t shooting and I told him I already had a limit of seven ducks,” said Ken, who is pictured below holding decoys carved by his father at right and by Perdew at left. “As he counted them on the lake, a great smile came across his face.”

Like father like son.     

Illinois hunting and fishing

 

 

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Last year was the first time I’ve gone to the Henry show.  It won’t be the last.  Great time.
As a youth in the late `50’s, my Dad and his friends had a duck club near Sanganois.  I remember helping carry gunny sacks full of old wooden decoys to the blinds.  I often wonder what treasures may have been in those bags, and what ever happened to those blocks!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02/07 at 08:58 AM

My dad worked for the duck clubs in the Henry area during 50s when plastic decoys were replacing the old wooden ones. He says that they gathered up all the old wooden decoys at the time and burned them because they were obsolete. When he thinks about the worth of the decoys today that they burned, it sickens him.

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