Sleeping Black-Bellied Plover
Melvin Gardner Lawrence (1880-1930)
Revere, MA, c. 1900
9 in. long
Introduction to the M. G. Lawrence plover pair, which is offered as two separate lots: A pair of museum-quality shorebird decoys in dynamic poses and soft winter plumage. Indeed, these decoys have resided in the Museum of American Bird Art over the last decade. While onloan they were showcased in the hallmark exhibition “Massachusetts Masterpieces: The Decoy As Art,” curated by Gwladys “Gigi” Hopkins. The exhibition included pinnacle geese by Capt. Charles Osgood (1820-1886), Charles Safford(1877-1957), and the unknown dovetail-maker, wood ducks from the Tyzzer Rig and Joseph Lincoln (1859-1938), and other important species by A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952), Lothrop Holmes (1824-1899), and Fred Nichols (1854-1924), among others. Two years later, this sleeping plover was selected for the front dust-jacket cover of the highly curated and researched “Massachusetts Masterpieces” book.
“The painting technique on the two plovers is unique,” Hopkins observes. “The soft, white feathering on each bird's back was not done by laying white spots on gray. Instead, it involved subtracting the gray to expose white beneath, using a solvent-damp brush. This results in a pleasing unity of color above and below.
“The other striking feature is seen in the sleeper's pose. A snoozing bird inspires total confidence in any overflying flock because it promises all is safe. Only an artist who'd spent hours observing the wild birds would understand this and use it to full advantage.”
The design and execution of this pair demonstrates the highly accomplished craftsmanship of the maker, whose work was even attributed to A. Elmer Crowell by Quintina Colio and other early authorities. Unlike Crowell, who contributed extensively to the portfolio of American birds, Melvin Gardner Lawrence's carving legacy consists of only a single rig of shorebird decoys that was likely no more than one dozen birds. This is believed to be the finest offering of this maker's work to ever come to market.
Excellent original paint with minimal gunning wear.
Provenance: John S. du Mont Collection
Thomas K. Figge Collection
Literature: Gwladys Hopkins, "Massachusetts Masterpieces: The Decoy as Art," Lincoln, MA, 2016, pl. 22 and front cover, exact decoy illustrated.
Quintina Colio, "American Decoys," Ephrata, PA, 1972, p. 50, rigmate illustrated and attributed to Crowell.
Richard A. Bourne Co. Inc., "Collection of the late William J. Mackey Jr.," Hyannis, MA, July 18, 1973, lot 380, rigmate illustrated.
Ted Harmon, "Snipe Hunt: Identifying the Shorebirds of Melvin Gardner Lawrence," Decoy Magazine, Lewes, DE, May/June 1997, pp. 44-45, rigmates illustrated.
Exhibited: Canton, MA, “Massachusetts Masterpieces: The Decoy as Art,” The Museum of American Bird Art, May 5–September 15, 2013.
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