Nichols Feeding Yellowlegs
Fred M. Nichols (1854-1924)
Lynn, MA, c. 1890
12 1/2 in. long
An exceptional animated decoy in a feeding posture with raised wings that extend above a thin paddle tail. Nichols' mastery of carving resides at the apex of working decoy refinement. The surface of this gunning decoy reveals exceptional brushwork. The underside retains a metal sleeve in the stick hole and is branded "N." Only a handful of Nichols feeding yellowlegs decoys are known to exist from this iconic "N" rig.
Fred Melville Nichols is considered among the greatest shorebird makers from any region. As Crowell's feeding "dust jacket" shorebirds have come to represent some of the maker's finest stick-ups, the delicate feeding model is the standard-bearer for this 19th-century North Shore, Massachusetts, maker. Indeed, a related example was chosen for the logo of Ted and Judy Harmon's Decoy Unlimited Inc. and for the 1982 Massachusetts Waterfowl Stamp.
Dr. James M. McCleery selected another related example to be featured in his famous "Call to the Sky" exhibition. Decoy curator and author Robert Shaw has published McCleery's bird twice, including in his definitive "Bird Decoys of North America" book. Shaw writes, "Nichols' obituary states that he was 'especially interested in music and birds, giving great attention to the shore-birds.' Both in form and paint, his handful of surviving willet whimbrels, yellowlegs, and plovers rank with the finest ever produced. He was a member of the Essex County Ornithological Club, whose first president was the renowned painter and etcher Frank Benson. Shaw's observation regarding Nichols' love of music is notable as Nichols decoys convey a lyrical quality about them.
Original paint with gunning wear. Two-thirds bill tip replacement. Typical sections of tail and right wing tip replaced.
Provenance: The Johnson Collection, acquired from Stephen O'Brien Jr. Fine Arts, 2004
Literature: Robert Shaw, "Call to the Sky: The Decoy Collection of James M. McCleery, M.D.," Houston, TX, 1992, p. 9, rigmate illustrated.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 169, rigmate illustrated.
John Clayton, "Massachusetts Masters: Decoys, Shorebirds, and Decorative Carvings Exhibition Catalog," The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University, 2010, p. 21, related example illustrated.
Gwladys Hopkins, "Massachusetts Masterpieces: The Decoy as Art," Lincoln, MA, 2016, pp. 56-57, related carvings illustrated.
Rob Moir and Jackson Parker, "Massachusetts Waterfowl Decoys," The Magazine Antiques, September 1989, p. 524, pl. XIV, rigmate illustrated.
George Reiger, "Humble Masterpieces: Decoys," National Geographic, vol. 164, no. 5, November 1983, p. 657, rigmate illustrated.
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