The Waring Skyward-Gazing Dust-Jacket Plover
A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)
East Harwich, MA, c. 1910
11 in. long
Believed to be a one-of-a-kind form, this exact decoy is featured on the front dust-jacket cover of "New England Decoys" by John and Shirley Delph.
Anthony Waring (1928-2021) of Swansea, Massachusetts, was a pioneering decoy collector in addition to being a sportsman and an architect. This profession made him aptly suited to appreciate the confluence of form, beauty, and function in bird decoys. Waring"s collecting began in the 1950s, a time when the only reference book available was "Wild Fowl Decoys" by a fellow architect Joel Barber.
Waring is known to have scoured the Atlantic Coast for decoy discoveries and to have traded with the other top collectors of the day, including Donal C. O"Brien Jr., William J. Mackey Jr., Dr. James McCleery, and Dr. Peter J. Muller Jr., among others. Waring"s often-repeated oral history of this plover trio was that they were first found in his corner of Massachusetts on the Westport River after the historic New England hurricane of 1938.
Discussing Waring, "Decoy Magazine" reported, "His home was filled with decoys that would make today"s collectors envious." Unlike the aforementioned early collectors, Waring sold his decoys directly to other collectors and, thus, the scope of his collection has been obscured. Today, book and magazine references, along with some recorded provenance for other standouts such as a Shang Wheeler sleeping black duck and the Muller Dudley canvasback, are what remains of this important early collection.
The form of this grand decoy is striking, with the head not only turned ninety degrees to the left, but also cocked to the side as if inquisitively gazing into the sky. In order to execute this special design, Crowell was forced to utilize an applied head atop the extended neck. The body has all of the features found in the maker"s best shorebirds, including a tail arching gracefully downward, completing an "S" curve along the bird's lower profile. The carving is finished with raised wings and deeply incised primaries, which measure six inches in length along the lower edges of the wings. The raised delineation of each wing is carved all the way around and resolves with a pronounced and exceedingly rare hollow between the two wing tips.
The paint surface displays the artist's early signature feather blending with incredible attention to feather groups. The maker employed a dynamic freestyle paint application to capture the high-contrast edge which transverses from the reaching neck along the belly to the rear flank.
This gunning decoy retains four pieces of shot from its time in the line of fire.
Outstanding original paint with light gunning wear.
Provenance: Anthony Waring Collection
Michael and Julie Hall Collection, acquired from the above, circa 1985
The Johnson Collection, acquired 2004
Literature: John and Shirley Delph, "New England Decoys," Exton, PA, 1981, front dust-jacket cover and pp 118-119, exact decoy discussed and illustrated(image reversed on p. 119).
Stephen B. O'Brien Jr. and Chelsie W. Olney, "Elmer Crowell: Father of American Bird Carving," Hingham, MA, 2019, pp. 220-221, exact decoy illustrated.
Kate Beckerman, "A. Elmer Crowell: Celebrating Cape Cod"s Master Carver," Antiques and the Arts Weekly, August 17, 2018, exact decoy illustrated.
Guyette and Schmidt, "North American Decoys at Auction, April 22 & 23, 2004," Boston, MA, 2004, front cover and lot 68, exact decoy illustrated.
Ronald S. Swanson, "The Decoy as Folk Sculpture," Cranbrook Academy of Art Exhibition Catalog, January 1987, p. 16, fig. 22, exact decoy illustrated.
Brian Cullity, "The Songless Aviary: The World of A. E. Crowell & Son," Hyannis, MA, 1992, p. 49, pl. II, and p. 59, related plover illustrated.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 160, related plover illustrated.
John Clayton, "Massachusetts Masters: Decoys, Shorebirds, and Decorative Carvings," The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University, 2010, p. 86, related plover illustrated.
Frank Maresca & Roger Ricco, "American Vernacular," New York, NY, 2002, p. 33, related plover illustrated.
William J. Mackey Jr., "American Bird Decoys," New York, NY, 1965, p. 64, pl. III, and front dust-jacket cover, related plover illustrated.
Loy S. Harrell Jr., "Decoys: North America"s One Hundred Greatest," Iola, WI, 2000, p. 98, related plover illustrated.
Joe Engers, ed., "The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys," San Diego, CA, 1990, p. 53, related plover illustrated.
Exhibited: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, "The Decoy as Folk Sculpture," Cranbrook Academy of Art, January 27"February 22, 1987.
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