The Mackey-Colio American Egret
New Jersey, c. 1880
45 in. long
“These monumental decoys are as exceptional as a decoy can be; in size, rarity, and design they are in a class by themselves.” — William J. Mackey discussing egret decoys, “American Bird Decoys,” 1965
An extremely rare, oversize egret known widely through its prominent presentations in the 1960s and 70s. This offering represents this iconic bird's long awaited public encore since being acquired by John R. Wierdsma from the Quintina Colio Collection through Sotheby Parke Bernet in 1975.
Although egrets were not often, if ever, hunted for the table because their flesh was generally deemed unpalatable, egret and heron carvings were used as confidence decoys to lure in more tasty waterfowl. They were also for a time involved with hunting for the millenary trade. While heron decoys with provenance are very rare, egret decoys are nearly non-existent, or in words of William Mackey “excessively rare.” Indeed, only one comparable to this lot has surfaced, and it has resided in the Shelburne Museum since the institution acquired it directly from the Downtown Gallery in 1952. This groundbreaking art gallery was started by Edith Halpert (1900-1970) in 1926.
The Mackey-Colio egret decoy was published in full-page features in both Mackey’s 1965 “American Bird Decoys,” and Colio’s 1972 “American Decoys.” From there, it was vetted for "The Flowering of American Folk Art" touring exhibition and accompanying book. This landmark museum exhibition debuted in New York City’s Whitney Museum in 1974 and was pivotal to our current appreciation of American Folk Art. The exhibition was headed by Alice Winchester and Jean Lipman, with consultants including Mary Allis, Adele Earnest, Nina Fletcher Little, and Peter Tillou. Among the small number of decoys selected were a Lothrop T. Holmes merganser pair and the Capt. Osgood geese. After leaving the Whitney, this carving made stops at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
The grand body measures a full forty-five inches from head to tail with a sixteen-inch neck. It was carved from a one-inch board. The head was applied with a metal bracket on each side. It was made as a stick-up decoy and has also been displayed hung on a wall with two small tacks on the right side.
The surface is as distinctive as the carving itself with tremendous craquelure. Two small paper labels on the right side of the tail remain from the Colio and Wierdsma Collections.
Old working paint with craquelure, heavy gunning wear, and some flaking to exposed wood. Chip along right side of stick hole.
Provenance: Quintina Colio Collection
John R. Wierdsma Collection, acquired 1975
Literature: William J. Mackey Jr., “American Bird Decoys.” New York, 1965, pl. 36, exact decoy illustrated.
Quintina Colio, "American Decoys," Ephrata, PA, 1972, p. 83 exact decoy illustrated.
Jean Lipman and Allice Winchester, "The Flowering of American Folk Art (1776-1876)," New York, NY, 1974, p. 167, exact decoy illustrated.
Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., "The American Heritage Society Auction of Americana," November 6-8, 1975, lot 262, exact decoy illustrated.
Exhibited: New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, "The Flowering of American Folk Art," February 1 - March 24, 1974.
Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, "The Flowering of American Folk Art," April 22–June 2, 1974.
San Francisco, California, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, "The Flowering of American Folk Art," June 24–September 15, 1974.
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