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Capt. George W. Combs Sr. (1911-1992)
Freeport, Long Island, NY, 1935
26 in. long, 25 in. wingspan
This bulling pintail is considered to be the finest flying gunning decoy known to exist. It has remained largely out of the public eye since winning a ribbon at the famous 1948 Natural Decoy Makers contest. It has resided in the Combs' family rig and collection, since George Sr. created it for his gunning rig eighty-four years ago.
True flying decoys are exceedingly rare as they were more challenging to create and transport than their floating counterparts. Those that were made were prone to significant damage, resulting in very few surviving into the decoy-collecting era. Indeed, this bird has a repair by the maker to its left wing tip.
Most vintage flying waterfowl collected today were made as decoratives with fine examples by Crowell and Hudson adorning many top collectors' walls. The majority of flying hunting decoys are brant from New Jersey and California by makers such as George Gaskill, Ellis Parker, Avon Merlini, and George McLellan. A review of the “Hundred Greatest” book reveals only one such flyer, a black brant by McLellan. Ira Hudson is one of the only top-tier makers that produced flying decoys, with just two Canada geese known. Combs apparently had a penchant for experimenting with flyers; Henry Stansbury documents a “Hudson flying Canada goose decoy from the Combs rig… used on Long Island Sound in the 1930s.”
This on-the-wing sprigtail captures a perfect balance of folk art and realism. This lively, animated form demonstrates the work of a highly skilled craftsman with intimate knowledge of his subject. The body and wings are canted slightly to the left simulating a banking flight. The outstretched head is angled upward and evokes a drake in pursuit of a hen.
Combs is remembered as an innovator, informed by the past and making improvements along the way. The Combs rig Hudson goose is heavy and its wings were lost. Combs made his flyer out of strong and lightweight balsa. As such, it was able to be transported easily and propped up high above the floating decoys in the rig on a thin rod where it could move with the wind. Unlike many of the aforementioned brant, there was no canvas to tear and puncture. Like the best shorebirds of Elmer Crowell and William Folger, the stick hole is lined with a metal sleeve. It now rests on a rod mounted in a wooden base finished with a plaque naming the maker and hunter "Captain George W. Combs Sr." Signed and dated “G. W. Combs, Sr. 1935” on the underside of the left wing.
Original paint with working touch-up to some flaking and wing tip repair by the maker.
Provenance: Capt. George W. Combs Sr. Rig
Private Collection, by descent from the above
Literature: Henry H. Stansbury, "Ira D. Hudson and Family," Lewes, DE, 2002, p. 99, flying Hudson goose illustrated.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 210, flying Hudson goose illustrated.
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