Tucked-Head Black-Bellied Plover Charles E. "Shang" Wheeler (1872-1949) Stratford, CT, c. 1910 10 in. long
"Mr. Wheeler's work represents the highest development yet reached in the American art of decoy making." This important plover was illustrated on the front cover of the auction catalog for the final session of the Mackey auctions in 1974. The underside bears the Mackey Collection ink stamp. The auctioneer, Richard A. Bourne, described it as "a superb decoy and one of the most rare shorebirds in the collection." While Wheeler made decorative shorebirds, this is one of the only working shorebird decoys he is known to have carved.
As seen in the maker's finest waterfowl carvings, such as the singular O'Brien-Mackey goose, this plover exhibits an original pattern with sophisticated detail, especially in the wing and tail carving. Additionally, the snuggle head rests within the body with the bill nestled into a slight indentation in the breast.
Quintina Colio etched this bird into decoy history and lore when she illustrated it in her 1972 book, "American Decoys," not once, but twice. She reported that a "rig of six black-bellied plover in spring plumage are the only known snipe decoys that were ever made by Charles 'Shang' Wheeler." A close look at the spread in the book, however, reveals only three decoys in the rig, each illustrated twice. In 1974, Richard Bourne clarified Colio's error citing three actual examples known to exist, not six. Original paint with even gunning wear, two-thirds bill replacement, and minor touch-up to breast.
Provenance: Charles E. "Shang" Wheeler gunning Rig William J. Mackey, Jr. Collection K. Barry and Janet Sharpless Collection, acquired from the auction of the above, 1974
Literature: Richard A. Bourne Co., Inc., "Very Rare and Important American Bird Decoys from the Collection of the late William J. Mackey, Jr. of Belford, New Jersey," Hyannis, MA, Sessions VII-VIII, 1974, front cover and lot 470, exact decoy illustrated. Joel Barber, "Champion Mallard," 1923, watercolor, The Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT. Quintina Colio, "American Decoys," Ephrata, PA, 1972, p. 56 (bird on right), exact decoy illustrated, p. 57 (center bird), exact decoy illustrated (image reversed).
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