Maryland Governor Gets a Duck March 2004

Governor Robert "Bob" Ehrlich received a Jobes Bro. duck from Skipjack Capt. on his right.  Henry Stansbury and Jack Stansbury accepted the duck on behalf of The Maryland Historical Society where Henry is Vice-President and Chair of their Gallery Committee.  Fellow on the far left is Dennis Fiori, Executive Director of The Maryland Historical Society.
My Five Favorite Hudson's

Published:  Hunting & Fishing Collectibles Magazine
January-February, 2003

I called publisher Stan to talk with him about an advertisement for my new Ira Hudson book, and I got in a conversation with him about how much I was enjoying the articles where collectors pick their five favorite birds. I mentioned how hard it would be for me to even select five of my favorite Hudson’s, and he challenged me to do so. So here goes.  

Back in the mid-80s I was told by a long-time Hudson collector that he might sell me his more than 50 Hudson’s he had accumulated over the years. Thereafter a ritual began prior to the major decoy auctions. I made it a habit of calling this collector and asking him if he was ready to sell his Hudson collection, because I was on my way to the auction and would probably spend all my available cash. He always responded, “no,” he wasn’t ready yet. I called him right before the George Star auction in 1986 and gave him my usual question, and to my surprise he responded that he was ready to sell. I asked him what his sale price was, and it seemed reasonable to me. So I jumped in my car the next night with a certified check for his exact asking price. When I arrived at his house I took out a yellow pad and I began tabulating values on his decoys, and when I was about 2/3 of the way through them I had reached his selling price. I told him I would take the collection, and he responded by asking if I didn’t want to think about it for a while and asking how was I going to arrange payment to him. Imagine his surprise when I handed him a certified check and said, “I am ready to complete the transaction tonight.”

In that collection of decoys is arguably the very best mallard c.1940 that Hudson ever carved. It is well known that Hudson would go to extremes in designing and carving special decoys if the purchaser of same was willing to pay an extra dollar or two for his top quality decoys. E.T. Calhoun of Delaware purchased a rig of Hudson’s finest and this is a mallard with Hudson’s best style low head, high tail, angry brow, beautifully carved, fluted tail. This is a rare carving too. Ira Hudson carved very few working Mallard decoys. Hunters were not after Mallards where he worked in the first half of the 20th century.
On the barrier Island off the Virginia coast where Ira carved decoys they called them “hariy heads.” This great merganser deserves the nickname. It came up in an auction in Maine a few years back. My friend Jack Marsh described it as having a “woody woodpecker” look to it with its unusual upswept crest. I found out the consigner was Ron Gard, and talked with him about it a few weeks ago. He said he was sorry he parted with it, and so will I be when I pass it on…years from now, I hope. It’s worn, rather chewed look adds to its appeal. A beautiful gunning bird!

My favorite black duck is a decoy which is a hunting bird that was never weighted and never hunted over. Hudson gave it a special treatment with scratch painting nearly all the way around the bird and a very thin tail and beautifully seated head on a shelf, as reflective of his style of black duck in the 1920s. This particular decoy was an advertisement and resided in the Samis & Bray Hardware store in Easton, Maryland with a sign suggesting that you buy your Ira Hudson decoys here. Wouldn’t you like to have the sign to go with the decoy?


Back in the 1980s when Henry Fleckenstein wrote Southern Decoys, he had a fairly good collection of Hudson’s. When I visited with him to look at his Hudson’s, I talked him out of the canvasback I’ve shown here. It also has a very heavy brow and it was definitely gunned over. In fact it is raked with shot which somehow enhances its appeal to me. This bird is also from the 1920s and demonstrates Hudson’s round bodied, flowing tail style with the head resting on its shelf. Hudson didn’t make many cans, as they were seldom found off the Virginia coast and in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where most of Hudson’s decoys were in great demand.
Milt Weiler’s favorite working decoy was an Ira Hudson bufflehead. Through some protracted negotiations it eventually ended up in my hands. Aside from its great form it has green, almost iridescent paint on the neck which buffleheads in nature tend to have, but rarely is found on any bufflehead decoy. This paint pattern is unique, I believe, among the known Ira Hudson buffleheads. Although I don’t own it and can’t really display it here, I think the hen that Dr. McCleary collected that was sold in his auction of January 2000 might be on my list if I had it in my possession. But I was the underbidder on a bird which I believe would be the perfect mate for my drake.
When I look over my selections I realize that I didn’t include either my drake teal in original paint or a pintail, and Hudson made fabulous pintails. I also didn’t include any of the decoratives which I left off deliberately knowing that I would only get confused if I tried to determine whether I should include decoratives along with working decoys. One of the great things about collecting Hudson’s is that he never used a pattern; and therefore, there is tremendous variety within each species of decoy that he carved over his forty plus years as a decoy maker.
Click here find out more about Ira Hudson and Family, Chincoteague Carvers as well as Lloyd Tyler, Decoy Maker and Folk Artist. Both books are available for sale and would make the perfect gift for any decoy enthusiast.

IRA HUDSON: The Mark McNair Connection Published:  Wildfowl Art
Winter 2002
In September of 1994 the Ward Museum put together an exhibit of classic hunting decoys.  Included in the exhibit were a fabulous pair of hooded mergansers by Ira Hudson on loan from Dr. and Mrs. Muller Sr. of Atlanta, GA.  Peter Muller’s classic birds were in the company of some remarkable decoys, including the world record Caines Brothers mallards, the famous Mason premier wood duck, half a dozen great Cobb Island birds, a Charlie Birch swan, and the standing spread wing Elmer Crowell goose that some day will break the existing world record of $684,500 held by the other preening Crowell goose, which I think was probably made at the same time.  In my opinion, the Hudson mergansers held their own in this great company.  To get an idea of their beauty, grace and rarity, since these birds were exhibited, another pair of them reputedly sold privately to a West Coast collector for a quarter of a million dollars! Mark McNair with decoys
Mark McNair in his carving shed doorway, c. 1978.  Photography by Jim Kappler
After studying the mergansers for quite some time on numerous occasions at the Ward Foundation Expo, I was out in the parking lot when Mark McNair, the great contemporary carver from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, arrived.  I told Mark I had something I had to show him, because I knew he had a strong affinity for Ira Hudson’s work, as well as quite a bit of experience repairing, repainting and restoring Hudsons in the early part of his carving career some 20 years ago.  (Incidentally, the photo of Mark included here was taken at that time.)  So I took him inside and showed him Dr. Muller’s hooded mergansers.  He walked all around them and admired them every bit as much as I did.  Then I sprung the question on him, “Mark, you know I’m never going to be able to buy a pair of these. There are only three known pairs in existence, and to buy a pair would put you well into six figures, I’m sure.  Mark, why don’t you make me a pair of these so that I can have them for my collection to go with my great red breasted mergansers and all my other Hudson pairs.”  

Wood ducks by Mark McNair in Ira Hudson style

Mark had to think about it, as he generally hates to do commissions; they don’t  sit well with his artistic nature.  But in the end I convinced him to make them.  He was so excited by his final work that he called me up on the phone and said he would like to hand deliver them to me.  He and his son drove five hours to Baltimore to see my collection and deliver them.  When the decoys came out of the box at my house in Catonsville,  I can’t tell you how excited I was.  They are aged to perfection; they look 75 years old!  I honestly believe that these are the two best decoys that Mark has ever made, but of course that comes from my bias toward Hudsons.   
Wood ducks in Ira Hudson style by Mark McNair, c. 1997


I also like the way he signed and personalized them by carving my name along with his on the bottom of the decoy. I could tell that he was pretty darn proud of his work, and rightly so.
Later I convinced Mark McNair that he should make a pair of full size wood ducks, and I sent him my miniature wood ducks to go by in designing them.  Mark took a lot of artistic license with them, and they are unique, but definitely would appear to have been made by Ira Hudson.  I have lots of fun sharing my “rare” pairs of woodies and hoodies to collectors who visit my home.

I next appealed to Mark’s artistic nature by suggesting to him that he make species of decoys that Ira Hudson never made.  It started with the arrival at my house of a Hudson black breasted plover with Mark’s handwriting on a piece of cardboard saying that “Ira Hudson was going to make this bird right before he died”.  Later he sent me a Hudson yellowlegs and a Hudson curlew to go with the plover.  Out of those three species, we believe Ira Hudson only made yellowlegs.

The most unique Mark McNair effort to pick a species that we believe Hudson never made is contained in the fabulous old squaw by Ira Hudson with assistance by Mark McNair.  This idea came totally out of Mark’s head, and it is a source of pleasure to me whenever I show it to other Hudson collectors as a Hudson that they’ve never seen before.  It looks like a Hudson!

Black-breasted plover, curlew and yellowlegs by Mark McNair c. 1997-99 in Ira Hudson style

Left to right: Black-breasted plover, curlew, yellowlegs;           
All in Ira Hudson style, c. 1997-99


Oldsquaw by Mark McNair 1999 in Hudson style

Oldsquaw in Ira Hudson style by Mark McNair, 1999


Flyinh Canada goose by Ira Hudson c. 1930's, restored by Mark McNair I predict that Mark McNair’s repaints and restorations of Hudson decoys from the late seventies and early eighties are about to soar in value.  I have never understood why people paid more for a Mark McNair decoy than they paid for an Ira Hudson with Mark McNair’s paint on it. Henry Fleckenstein, Bobby Richardson and others had Mark repairing and repainting Hudson brants, geese, blue bills, black ducks, mergansers, pintails, miniatures and flying birds.  Mark all but stopped this work when he found out that he had done such a good job of duplicating the Hudsons’ paint that his work was being passed off as original and his reputation was in jeopardy.  You will find some of his Hudson repaint work with the letter “M” scratched or written in the paint on the bottom, indicating that he repainted it.  But the “M”’s were readily removed or covered.  Although I probably have several decoys in my collection that have Mark McNair paint on them that I have not identified as such, I do know that the fabulous flying goose shown here was totally restored by Mark.  He reshaped and put the wings on and painted the entire bird for Mike Keating, who sold it to Dick Stephenson in Virginia, from whom I purchased it.  No one has disguised the fact that Mark did the restoration of a great sculptural form by Ira Hudson, and I love the piece with full knowledge of its history.  The actual decoy was gunned over by George Coombs Sr. on Long Island as a working decoy, although it looks more like a decorative today with so much restoration.  The other great geese carved by Ira Hudson shown here were repainted by Mark back in the 70’s and early 80’s at the request of Bob Biddle, a Pennsylvania collector of Hudsons.
Canada goose by Ira Hudson, c. 1930's                                    Restored by Mark McNair, c. 1980's
Canada goose by Ira Hudson c. 1940's, restored by Mark McNair
Canada goose by Ira Hudson, c. 1940's                                    Restored by Mark McNair, c. 1970's
Canada goose by Ira Husdson c. 1930's, restored by Mark McNair
Canada goose by Ira Hudson, c. 1930's                                    Restored by Mark McNair, c. 1980's
I know for sure that Mark repainted the Ira Hudson pintail hen because he did it for my brother-in-law Jim Kappler in 1978.  Jim took the picture of Mark in his carving shed doorway at that time.  Mark also taught Cameron McIntyre how to paint in the Hudson style, and I display Mark’s repaint hen with Cameron’s pintail drake repainted 20 years later, and I defy people to tell the difference between styles of the two best Ira Hudson restoration experts.  I can’t prove it, but I believe the Hudson pintail with fabulous form is also a Mark McNair repaint.  I bought it ten years ago thinking it was in original Norman Hudson paint, but I have since come to believe that Mark painted it.  Mark painted many Ira Hudson black ducks like the one illustrated here.  Some people think Mark’s Hudson paint is actually better than Ira’s original, but they look great and are still reasonably priced…for now. Pintail hen and drake by Ira Hudson c. 1930's, restored by Mark McNair

Front to back:                                                    Pintail hen by Ira Hudson, c. 1930's                               Repainted by Mark McNair, c. 1970's                                 Pintail drake by Ira Hudson, c. 1930's                                   Repainted by Mark McNair, c. 1990's


Collecting Oddballs: Cheap and Fun

Click here to view article 

Published:  Decoy Magazine
September - October 2003

Fourth of October?
Uncle Sam himself made a special appearance at Agency Services and Agency Insurance Company's annual Halloween extravaganza. He led the Fourth of July parade down Main Street of Anytown, USA, making a stop outside the Purple Rage to pose for a quick picture with the locals.
Henry as Uncle Sam Jack Stansbury, Laura Touhey, and Henry
Two Times the Fun!
Sleeping Angels On June 10, 2001, Henry became the proud grandfather of twin boys: Patrick Ruffner and Nicholas Bankard. Rumor has it the boys already prefer good old working decoys to yellow rubber duckies at bath time.
Nicholas Bankard Stansbury (l) and Patrick Ruffner Stansbury (r)

Henry celebrates the birth of our country with two brand new Americans.

Henry with 3 week old twin grandsons

Gone Fishin' - May 2001
The best place to spend the summer is out on the Bay! 
Henry with fish Bill & Henry
Henry with proof that he caught one "thiiiiiis big"! Bill Pugh and Henry with their prize catch.

30th Annual Easton Waterfowl Festival a Huge Success!
"Wildfowl Week" started off with lots of wheeling and dealing in the parking lot where Guyette & Schmidt held their decoy auction.  The weather held up on Wednesday, and many decoy transactions were transpired by both pre-arrangement and happenstance.  The auction began at eleven o'clock, and by all indications from conversations with Frank Schmidt and Gary Guyette, it was a tremendous success.  By Thursday at 4 o'clock, the mad scramble was underway to set up dealer booths at Easton High School.  As usual, the Friday transactions were numerous as the serious collectors came early and bought the best.  Most of the dealers that I spoke with said that they did well over half of their business in the first couple of hours on Friday, while Saturday sales were modestly successful.  The normal slow down occurred on Sunday. 
Our success was measured more by our purchases than our sales, as seems to be the course of things at decoy shows and auctions.  We came away with a beautiful pair of Sterling widgeons from Crisfield, MD, and a rare pair of Richard Tilghman's goldeneyes that were hunted over in the Miles and Wye River areas of Talbot County, Maryland.  They are historically significant and extremely well made.  For more information on Dick Tilghman, see The Outlaw Hunter by Walsh.  Another interesting purchase was an Ira Hudson merganser with a poor bill repair that has already been sent off to the Duck Doctor.  It represents an era between the so-called "Gargatha" Virginia mergansers of the early 1900's and the more traditional Ira Hudson mergansers in the 1920's and 30's.  Leaving my collection were more than a dozen good decoys which will be sorely missed, but if you want to buy, you have to sell!  We also sold several Lloyd J. Tyler: Folk Artist, Decoy Maker books and a plethora of Chesapeake Wildfowl Hunting, Maryland's Finest Decoys catalogs.  For detailed descriptions of these publications, click on the links.  
Equally important to the sales and purchases I made over the course of the festival was seeing all my decoy friends and old customers from around the country.  What a fun-filled weekend!
-Henry Stansbury

Objects of the Chesapeake Exhibit Opens at Government House
First Lady of Maryland, Frances Hughes Glendening, hosted a reception for the Objects of the Chesapeake exhibit at Government House in Annapolis on Tuesday, October 10, 2000. Over 150 guests, all sharing a common respect for the Chesapeake Bay and the folk traditions that grew from its shores, attended the event. Mrs. Glendening and Henry Stansbury speak at Government House
Items on display included boat models, paintings and many assorted decoys from the Chesapeake Bay area, kindly loaned to Government from several private and museum collections.  Curator Henry Stansbury emphasized the vital role common watermen from the Bay's shores played in sustaining the economic importance of Maryland, especially  in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mrs. Glendening spoke on the need to preserve Maryland history for our children, as it still plays an important role in the lives of Marylanders today.  Objects of the Chesapeake will be on display through November 2000.   
-J. Van Dam
Judy & Henry Stansbury with Maryland's First Lady, Mrs. Glendening
Judy and Henry Stansbury with First Lady of Maryland, Frances Hughes Glendening, examine decoys ca. late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Curator's Statement:
The Chesapeake Bay, with its three dozen river tributaries, has long been the source of Maryland's contribution to food and fancy, as well as the focus of our pleasures, economic strength and importance. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Maryland had a worldwide reputation for superior shipbuilding prowess, producing the most excellent oysters, and the best wildfowl hunting grounds. This exhibit features selective Bay-related artifacts from the collections of the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, MD, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, MD, and several private collections.
In the 19th century, the only reliable means of transportation for coastal Marylanders and their trade articles was the Bay. The boat models in this exhibit are examples of vessels that plied the Chesapeake Bay, such as the world renowned Baltimore clippers that were offshoots of the far more numerous shallow draft schooners, bugeyes and skipjacks that zipped up and down the Bay in the 1800's. Many of these boats were used to gather oysters, one of Maryland's most important exports at the time. For a time, the Chesapeake Bay provided the richest harvest of oysters in the world. In the late 1800's there were over one hundred packing houses in Baltimore, and over twenty thousand Marylanders in the oyster trade. 
For most of the 1800's and early 1900's, people in the major cities of the East Coast had an insatiable appetite for wildfowl of the Chesapeake. Exhibited working decoys were used by amateur and professional watermen as they shot as many as 100 ducks a day for their own meals, as well as the culinary enjoyment of prominent clubs and hotels from Baltimore to New York. Sport hunting on the Chesapeake was enjoyed by the rich and famous, including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Grover Cleveland and many Maryland Governors. 
The Ward Brothers, Lem (1896-1984) and Steve (1895-1976), were Crisfield, MD, barbers who became world famous decoy makers. Beginning about 1915, they made working decoys with wide flat bottoms for hunting in the Lower Bay, several of which are featured in this exhibit. The Ward Brothers are credited with turning decoy making into the decorative art form it is today. Their work graces many museums and private collections and inspired the creation of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury, Maryland, where much of their work resides. 
Special thanks should be given to Nancy Davis and David Beard of the Maryland Historical Society, and Sam Dyke and Vance Strausburg of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, for their assistance in preparing this exhibit.
Henry H. Stansbury 
Trustee, Maryland Historical Society 
Trustee, Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art
September 2000

A Message from Frances Hughes Glendening, First Lady of Maryland:
"...Objects of the Chesapeake [is] a unique exhibition of art and artifacts organized to reveal the extraordinary impact of the Chesapeake Bay on the cultural traditions, economy and history of our state.  I am pleased to present this special exhibit at Government House as part of the Celebration of the Arts in Maryland initiative.
The beauty of the Chesapeake Bay draws so many of us to its shores today for rest and relaxation as well as sporting pleasure.  Yet, for Maryland's earliest settlers, the water and surrounding environs provided essential sustenance through an incredible bounty of sea life and wildlife.  The fishermen of times past who plied the ships and small boats helped to build the state's economy through the sale and export of fishing products.  The villages and town of the Chesapeake area were established as communities for watermen and farmers while Baltimore's harbor developed as an industrial center to process and ship goods.  In this way, the Bay played a central role in casting the lives and traditions for generations of Marylanders - and continues to do so today.
One of the best-known and beloved folk traditions of the Chesapeake region is the carving of wildfowl decoys.  These fine renderings by local artisans suggest a profound appreciation for the beauty and splendid variety of waterfowl with which Maryland is blessed.
My special thanks go to Henry Stansbury, whose passion for the heritage of the Chesapeake inspired him to organize this study.  Additional thanks go to the Maryland Historical Society, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Judy Stansbury, Lloyd and Part Cargile, and Vance and Nancy Strausburg for lending objects from their collections for this exhibition.

Just as water is capable of carving rock over time, the Chesapeake Bay has shaped and influenced the cultural heritage of Maryland and its people.  If a lasting impression can be taken from Objects of the Chesapeake, it is the vital importance of celebrating our cultural traditions and protecting our natural resources."