Decoy carving not a lost art in Louisiana
Today, hunters and collectors covet the decoys and decorative birds Louisiana artists carve. But, once upon a time, bird carving was just about putting food on the table.
In Louisiana, folks often manage to turn matters of survival into art forms. Cajun cuisine, for instance, married tradition to the need to live on available foods. The art of waterfowl carving has similar roots.Today, hunters and collectors covet the decoys and decorative birds Louisiana artists carve. But, once upon a time, bird carving was just about putting food on the table.
Russell Danos of Raceland grew up watching his neighbors carve waterfowl – and watching his father put them to use. In those days, hunting was so important to survival that Danos’ father pulled his boys from school during duck season. Being from a family of carpenters, Danos naturally gravitated to carving decoys. Birds by highly regarded carvers now sell for thousands of dollars, Danos says. “Louisiana decoys are sold all over the United States,” he says. “It’s an art.”
Carver Jason LeGaux is the author of "Louisiana Decoy Makers: Continuing The Family Tradition." Well before European settlers arrived in Louisiana, LeGaux says, Indians fashioned decoys out of cane and real feathers. French settlers looking to feed their families took notice and began carving decoys from wood. LeGaux and his brother learned the craft from their father and his brother, as in early Louisiana families. “As the families grew, the younger generation was taught by their fathers and grandfathers,” LeGaux says.
In the first half of the 20th century, carvers began selling decoys to local hardware stores and in New Orleans’ French Market. By the 1960s, LeGaux says, a collectors’ market emerged. Today, a wide variety of birds, reflecting the extraordinary diversity of Louisiana birdlife, are carved and sold purely for decorative purposes. Despite high market interest, some carvers worry that the younger generation is losing touch with the tradition. Not Danos. “At one time it was getting to be a lost art,” he says. But now “the younger generations are getting involved.”