Turned-Head "Dust Jacket" Plover A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) East Harwich, MA, c. 1910 10 1/2 in. long
Lots 205 - 225 bear the NELSON stamp and are part of The Grant Nelson Collection of Decoys
The Grant Nelson Collection of Shorebird Decoys is one of the finest ever assembled. Nelson’s love for shorebirds and waterfowl grew out of his appreciation for avian works by Boston impressionist painter Frank W. Benson (1862-1951).
For two decades, Nelson’s focus was on acquiring exemplary pieces with great form, surface, and provenance. Nelson’s acquisitions, totaling well over one hundred birds, are a defining collection in the field.
Born in East Harwich, Massachusetts, Elmer Crowell possessed an early fascination with ornithology and hunting. These passions led to a career as a market gunner in the late 1800s. In 1898 Dr. John C. Phillips, Jr. (1876-1938), a sportsman who was also a prominent member of Boston society and a prolific author, asked Crowell to manage his Wenham Lake hunting camp. Upon seeing Crowell’s masterful carvings, Phillips and the camp’s affluent guests persuaded Crowell to make decoys for them. The resulting decoys from this early period are some of the most desirable bird carvings ever made.
Widely credited with being the father of American bird carving, Elmer Crowell’s influence on all future carvers cannot be overstated. One of the most famous carvers in the world, Crowell’s meticulous workmanship and exquisite painting have never been surpassed.
Elmer Crowell’s “dust jacket” plovers have long been viewed by folk art and decoy collectors, and museum curators, to be among the finest decoys and American sculpture ever made. A very similar example to this lot is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum and was recently exhibited in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In the marketplace, this cover-lot was the number two shorebird at auction in 1992, and a closely related Crowell feeding plover holds the record for any shorebird decoy.
The term “dust jacket” arose from decoy collectors referencing the cover images of William J. Mackey, Jr.’s American Bird Decoys and John Delph’s New England Decoys that each feature a trio of Crowell plover. Known for their animated forms, exceptional paint patterns, and beautifully carved primaries, Crowell took tremendous care in carving these early decoys. The extensive efforts required were simply too time-consuming for Crowell and he quickly abandoned the model. In fact, this wing-tip treatment virtually disappears from his work by 1920.
This example’s carved primaries extend over more than half the length of the bird. The head is dramatically turned to the left and is neatly balanced by curvaceous split-tail carving. Crowell finished the surface with his signature wet-on-wet feather paint. The result is a decoy that captures the likeness of species as well as any gunning plover the maker ever created. In excellent original paint with minor gunning wear and a replaced bill.
Provenance: Private Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts Grant Nelson Collection
Literature: William J. Mackey, Jr., "American Bird Decoys," New York, NY, 1965, p. 64, color plate III, and dust jacket, related decoy illustrated. John and Shirley Delph, "New England Decoys," Exton, PA, 1990, dust jacket, related decoy illustrated. Copley Fine Art Auctions, "The Sporting Sale," July 2008, lot 282, exact decoy illustrated. Jeff Waingrow, "American Waterfowl Decoys," New York, NY, 1985, pp. 90-91 and back cover, related decoy illustrated. Jackson Parker, “The Decoy at Auction - The Year in Review” "Decoy Magazine," Lewes, DE, 1992, p. 13, exact decoy illustrated. Gene and Linda Kangas, “Great Decoys From Great Rigs,” "Decoy Magazine," Lewes, DE, Nov/Dec, 2009, p. 25, exact decoy illustrated.
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