A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)
East Harwich, MA, c. 1910
13 in. long
Of the thousands of decoys that William J. Mackey Jr. owned in his lifetime, he selected just three birds for the cover of his early and influential volume "American Bird Decoys," published in 1965. These three "dust jacket" birds, along with a John Dawson merganser (lot 19), were also the only birds selected for the cover of a later reprinting in 1987. The shorebirds were all elaborately carved and painted by the father of American bird carving, A. Elmer Crowell. It was from collectors referencing this iconic book that the term “dust jacket” came to describe this exceptional carved-wing style that lasted just a short while. John and Shirley Delph’s 1981 book, "New England Decoys," also features a trio of related decoys on its dust jacket along with an early turned-head wood duck by the same maker. The Delphs' choice further cemented the moniker for this elite shorebird group. The brief period during which Crowell carved these elaborate working decoys was just prior to the the passing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which outlawed nearly all shorebird shooting. Fortuitously for patrons and collectors, this shorebird gunning period coincided with the maker's greatest carving years, which is generally regarded as 1900-1915. Known for their variety of forms, exceptional paint patterns, grand scale, and beautifully carved primaries, Crowell took tremendous care in carving these early “dust jacket” decoys. The efforts that he imparted in carving these birds was simply too time consuming and he rather quickly abandoned the model all together. In fact, this wing-tip treatment, which virtually disappears from all of his work by 1920, acts as a marker for his stylistic changes.
An exceedingly rare "dust jacket" style yellowlegs, birds of this species and model rarely come to light; in fact, they are far less common than his renowned "dust jacket" plover.
Crowell’s most famous yellowlegs carving, and the most closely related yellowlegs decoy to this lot, is the open-bill calling yellowlegs seen on the dust jacket of the Harry V. Long Collection book. With its uplifted and drawn-back head and graceful neck, this grand carving showcases Crowell's unique ability to capture the semblance of movement in a gunning bird as well as any maker. The long and thin tail swoops slightly downward, completing a S-curve along the lower profile. The incised primaries extend for nearly six inches along the sides. The surface is finished with Crowell’s masterful paint techniques, including wet-on-wet blending throughout the mottled feather groups.
Original paint with minimal gunning wear including tiny chip to wing tips.
Provenance: Private Collection, Cape Cod
Literature: Copley Fine Art Auctions, “The Harmon ‘Dust Jacket’ Plover Trio,” The Sporting Sale, Hingham, MA, 2009, related plover illustrated.
Copley Fine Art Auctions, "The Harry V. Long Collection of A. Elmer Crowell Decoys," The Sporting Sale, Boston, MA, 2009, front dust jacket and lot 64, related calling yellowlegs illustrated.
Stephen B. O'Brien Jr. and Chelsie W. Olney, "Elmer Crowell: Father of American Bird Carving," Hingham, MA, 2019, pp. 122-125 and 210, related carvings illustrated.
William J. Mackey Jr., "American Bird Decoys," New York, NY, 1965, p. 64, pl. III, and dust jacket, related plover illustrated.
John and Shirley Delph, "New England Decoys," Exton, PA, 1981, dust jacket, related plover illustrated.
Robert H. Boyle, “With a Quack, Quack Here,” Sports Illustrated, September 27, 1971, p. 50, related example illustrated.
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