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Wooden duck decoys have gained popularity in the last 30 years as both home decorations and treasures passed down from father to son or grandfather to grandson. On the North Carolina coast, however, boat and decoy carving has meant more than trinkets. Woodworkers carve decoys for a variety of reasons. Some still use them to hunt prey. Others enjoy recreating a part of nature. And others make a living selling them, replicating not only ducks but birds and other wild fowl. Decoy-making was so popular on Harkers Island that several carvers decided to band together in a guild and denote a day that they could gather and sell their crafts under one roof. Their ideas resulted in the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild and the Core Sound Decoy Festival.
In Folkways Coastal Carvers, some of the most talented carvers on Harkers Island exhibit their wares and explain how they began making decoys and why they continue. James Rose, miniature boat builder, demonstrates his boats and talks about why he built each one and the significance it has to him. Curt Salter, decoy carver and founding member of the Core Sound Guild, explains step by step how he chooses the wood for a decoy and then cuts and carves it until it resembles a duck's body and head. His collection of historic decoys from a time when they brought home dinner is also quite impressive. Wayne Davis and Carl Huff are two other carvers that have designed their own styles of decoys.
Scenes from the annual Core Sound Decoy Festival, held the first weekend in December, prove the popularity of these freely-formed fowl. Lines to the small school that houses the event begin as early at 6 AM and wrap around the property. At a decoy auction, participants pay as much as $7500 for a small wooden replica of a water bird. The Festival, along with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, help ensure that this old North Carolina coastal craft will never die away.
Core Sound Decoy Festival
What began 14 years ago as a "place to sell our decoys," the CORE SOUND DECOY FESTIVAL, has now become a three-location, three-day event, Core Sound WATERFOWL WEEKEND, and a $3.4 million museum facility, the CORE SOUND WATERFOWL MUSEUM, for Down East Carteret County.
The Core Sound Decoy Festival features the state's largest collection of contemporary decoy carvers. Hosted by Harkers Island Elementary School, this annual event brings thousands to Harkers Island to buy, sell and swamp decoys and waterfowl carvings from more than 50 carvers and collectors. The event also includes carving competitions, loon calling, artifact exhibits and world-famous Harkers Island clam chowder.
Core Sound Waterfowl Weekend
Originally located within the Decoy Festival, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum's annual celebration moved to its new facility in 1999 and expanded its offerings to include a broad spectrum of exhibits, demonstrations, events and activities reflecting the overall mission of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum.
Waterfowl carvers and artists, copper sculptors, model boat builders and photographers share their work. Boat building, net hanging, storytelling, book signings, traditional music and community exhibits bring craftsmen, local historians and musicians together to celebrate the heritage of these small communities of eastern Carteret County.
The Core Sound Watefowl Museum
Decoy making has long been an established tradition in coastal North Carolina. Like other everyday activities that become obsolete with a changing lifestyle, the practice of turning wood into ducks had been taken for granted, ignored, possibly even forgotten. What was once an everyday practice might have become extinct had it not been for those whose love and appreciation for the art had been passed down through generations and outweighed the changes taking place around them.
This has been true for every waterfowling area across the country, including eastern NC and Carteret County in particular. Though decoy making has been a part of the culture for generations, a formal effort to renew the craft had not been made until the Decoy Carvers Guild was formed in 1987. The organization's stated purpose read: "To encourage support and interest in migratory waterfowl preservation, and to share ideas and perpetuate carving, painting and taxidermy of waterfowl and related items."
The mission of the Decoy Carvers Guild and the success of the Decoy Festival brought to light the need for a more permanent contribution in preserving this waterfowl heritage. To accomplish these goals, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, Inc. was created and a 21-member Board of Directors was appointed including carvers, area businessmen, and local government representatives. The board decided to pursue a lease agreement with Cape Lookout National Seashore as a building site for the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum.
This proposal was presented to North Carolina's Congressional delegation and to the Superintendent's Office of Cape Lookout National Seashore. With the approval and support of the late Senator Terry Sanford, Senator Jesse Helms, Representative Walter B. Jones and a special interest from former Representative Martin Lancaster, the appropriate meetings were held and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on November 30, 1993, allowing construction of the Waterfowl Museum within Cape Lookout National Seashore on Harkers Island.
Core Sound Waterfowl Museum
A museum in Harkers Island preserving the history and heritage of coastal North Carolina.
North Carolina Treasures site
Read about decoy carvers interviewed on this North Carolina Now special.