Standing Black Duck Ira D. Hudson (1873-1949) Chincoteague, VA, c. 1930 15 in. long
Ira Hudson was born in Maryland and grew up in Delaware. Later he and his wife Eva moved to the island of Chincoteague in Virginia to raise their nine children. A multi-talented craftsman, Hudson designed and built his own home on Chincoteague. He also designed and built boats, including many flat-bottomed scows used for hunting and oyster farming. In 1897, at age twenty-six, Hudson added decoy carving to the several other occupations he would pursue over the years; the 1900 and 1910 census records list Hudson as a “waterman” and “oysterman.” In order to support his family, Hudson also built chicken coops, gunstocks, and even clothespins when there was a demand for these items during World War II.
This resourceful maker carved his decoys from a variety of wood types, including driftwood and old ships’ masts. In addition to working decoys, Hudson carved miniatures, decoratives, and fish. Always an innova-tive maker, Hudson portrayed his life-like carvings in a variety of positions. His hissing geese, turning ducks, and spread-wing decoratives exemplify the animation in his carvings.
Hudson enlisted the help of his family to fill his numerous carving orders. All nine children learned under his wing and contributed in some capacity to his carving. Several of his offspring became talented makers in their own right. Most notably, Hudson’s sons Norman and Delbert went on to design, carve, and sell their own decoys (see Lot 282).
This pinnacle work is among Hudson’s most successful and dramatic creations. Perfectly balanced on hand-crafted metal feet, it holds a commanding presence. The high head is tilted, turned ninety degrees to the left and has full cheeks, eye grooves, and carved bill detail. True to Hudson’s distinctive style, the fluted tail echoes the head and is also turned to the left, giving the bird a full arch from end to end. The curvaceous wings are among Hudson’s best and are notable for their intact condition. The surface is finished with the maker’s finest signature scratch feather paint. William H. Purnell’s “WHP JR” is branded on the underside of the plump body.
Through sculptures such as this, Hudson planted his flag as the South’s greatest waterfowl folk artist of the era. In Ira D. Hudson and Family historian Henry Stansbury writes that “of all of Hudson’s carvings, his flyers, standers and walkers are likely his greatest artistic contribution to the folk art community...Hudson’s decoratives were not bound by function, but were rather whimsical interpretations of waterfowl in nature. It was a world that Ira Hudson knew well.” Supporting his statement, Stansbury features only standing examples on both the front and back dust jacket covers of his authoritative book on this maker.
Most comparables from this early period show assorted damage due to the fragile construction and thick paint. The intact nature of this prime example, along with its provenance, sets it apart from nearly all other examples.
William J. Mackey, Jr, in his pioneering decoy collecting book, American Bird Decoys, writes that Ira Hudson was “the most prolific and best commercial decoy maker Virginia ever produced...” This black duck ranks at the very top of his efforts. Excellent original paint with minimal wear, three small darkened flakes on head, minor putty loss on top of head, and minor crazing to end grain. Original check to underside.
Provenance: William H. Purnell, Jr. Collection Grant Nelson Collection
Literature: Henry H. Stansbury, "Ira D. Hudson and Family," Lewes, DE, 2002, dust jacket covers and pp. 142-146, related examples illustrated. William J. Mackey, Jr., "American Bird Decoys," New York, NY, 1965, p. 161. Laurence Sheehan, "The Sporting Life," New York, NY, 1992, p. 129, related wigeon illustrated.
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