A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)
East Harwich, MA, c. 1910
10 in. long
The Harmon turned-head plover is considered by many to be the finest shorebird of its kind known to exist. The exquisite paint technique laid atop this masterful sculpture creates an illusion of realism virtually unrivaled by any other decoy carver. The animated bird created in wood and pigment, comes to life with its skyward casting glance.
Two other turned-head comparables also by Crowell, are featured on the cover of Delph’s New England Decoys. The only other turned-head shorebird in the “top one hundred” decoys at auction list is also a notable cover bird, a curlew by Thomas Gelston (1850-1924) illustrated on the front of Quintina Colio’s, American Decoys. That carving set a world record for the maker when it sold for $467,000 over a decade ago.
The form of this decoy is striking, with the head turned ninety degrees and the tail arching gracefully downward, completing an “S” curve along the birds lower profile. It features Crowell’s best incised primaries which measure six inches in length along the lower edges of the wings.
The paint on the top half of the decoy displays the artist’s marquee wet-on-wet feather blending to represent a plover’s mottled plumage. Small brushstrokes accurately adorn the crown and gradually increase in size towards the scapulars and back. The maker employed a dynamic freestyle paint application to capture the high-contrast area which begins in a tight formation on the face and opens up as it transverses the throat, breast, belly, and tail. This marbleized feathering is the best seen on any of the Crowell “dust jacket” plover.
Outstanding original paint with minimal gunning wear, replaced bill, and minute rub to wing tips.
Provenance: Roger Bacon Collection
Ted and Judy Harmon Collection, acquired from the above, c. 1977
Literature: Brian Cullity, “The Songless Aviary: The World of A. E. Crowell & Son,” Hyannis, MA, 1992, p. 49, pl. II, and p. 59, exact decoy illustrated.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 160, exact decoy illustrated.
John Clayton, “Massachusetts Masters: Decoys, Shorebirds, and Decorative Carvings,” The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University, 2010, p. 86, exact decoy illustrated.
Frank Maresca & Roger Ricco, "American Vernacular," New York, NY, 2002, p. 33, exact decoy 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, 1990, dust jacket, related plover illustrated.
Loy S. Harrell Jr., "Decoys: North America’s One Hundred Greatest," Iola, WI, 2000, p. 98, exact decoy illustrated.
Stephen B. O'Brien Jr. and Chelsie W. Olney, "Elmer Crowell: Father of American Bird Carving," Hingham, MA, 2019, p. 305, exact decoy illustrated.
Sandwich, Massachusetts, “The Songless Aviary: The World of A. E. Crowell & Son,” Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, May 10–October 25, 1992.
Salisbury, Maryland, “Massachusetts Masters: Decoys, Shorebirds and Decorative Carvings,” Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University, LeMay Gallery, October 1, 2010–January 23, 2011.
Peoria, Illinois, “American Decoy: The Invention,” Peoria Riverfront Museum, February 9–April 28, 2019.
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