Canvasback Pair John B. Graham (1822-1912) Charlestown, MD, c. 1880 15 in. long
“There are very few decoys from the Upper Chesapeake that rise to the level of artistic genius achieved by John Black Graham in this incredible pair of Canvasbacks. While most Upper Bay decoy makers were producing vast numbers of working decoys to be used as mere tools of the waterfowl hunters, John Graham created these masterpieces of art. Never destined to float alongside the deadly sinkboxes of the Susquehanna Flats, these were made to grace the mantlepiece of a special home. These Canvasbacks set the standard against which others can be judged.” - C. John Sullivan C.
John Sullivan is an authority on the history of the Upper Chesapeake Bay and its decoys. He has served as a consultant to the Maryland Historical Society, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. His books include "Waterfowling: The Chesapeake Legacy," "Robert F. McGaw: A Chronicle of Letters," "Old Ocean City," and, most recently, "Waterfowling on the Chesapeake, 1819-1936." He also co-authored the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum Collection book and has authored numerous articles.
John Black Graham, along with John Holly (1819-1892), are considered the pioneers and pinnacle makers from the Upper Bay region. The Susquehanna Flats and its canvasbacks required rigs of hundreds of decoys for successful hunting and very few early decoys survived in their original condition. This incredible pair, with their painted “angel wing” backs and S-curve heads, graced the mantle of a Charlestown home and were spared the exposure of the hunting grounds. Original paint with light wear from handling, touch-up around age lines in necks and to tails.
Provenance: Private Collection, Charlestown, Maryland Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Collection
Literature: C. John Sullivan, "The Grahams of Charlestown," Decoy Magazine, July/August 1997, front cover, exact decoys illustrated. Laurence Sheehan, "The Birding Life," New York, NY, 2011, p. 92, exact decoy illustrated. Loy S. Harrell, Jr., "Decoys: North America’s One Hundred Greatest," Iola, WI, 2000, pp. 118-119, exact decoys illustrated.
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