Wood Duck Pair
Charles "Shang" Wheeler (1872-1949)
Stratford, CT, c. 1940
14 in. long
An extremely rare, preening wood duck drake and a turned-head hen. The pair exhibits carved bill detail, glass eyes, delicate crests, and raised wing tips. This pair was selected by Henry Chitwood to be featured in his book on Connecticut decoys to show Shang's "most elaborate decorative carving."
In 1923 Wheeler arrived on the competition-carving scene with a bang. A newly formed conservation group led by Joel Barber called the Anti-Dusker Society sponsored one of the first decoy shows in the country in Bellport, Long Island. A carving competition held at the event was aimed at hunters in attendance to further advance the concept of shooting over decoys.
The inaugural event attracted amateur and professional carvers from near and far, and it was Wheeler who took home top amateur honors. Joel Barber stated that Wheeler's model had demonstrated ?the highest development yet reached in the American art of decoy carving.? According to authors Merkt and Lytle, ?Wheeler carted off first prize at Bellport because he had introduced a new style to decoy painting.?
This preening drake displays many of the elements that top Wheeler collectors look for. The head is artfully and accurately turned around from the right side of the breast and is topped with a pronounced crest. The accurately presented bill is heavily incised and shoots across the bird's back, touching down between the raised wings. The bird's overall proportions and intricate combed paint are spot-on. The hen has a gently turned head and is executed with as much care as the drake, rounding out this impressive pair.
Due to Wheeler's immense popularity in his own time, his decoys were in high demand and made their way up and down the Atlantic Coast. One rig was used on South Carolina's Cooper River, which flows along the northern shore of Charleston.
These were once owned by a top Southern collector from Virginia known for his wood ducks.
In original paint with minor wear, the hen has a few tight age lines.
Provenance: Private Collection, Virginia
Private Collection, Midwest
Private Collection, Cape Cod
Literature: Henry C. Chitwood, "Connecticut Decoys," West Chester, PA, 1987, p. 72, exact pair of decoys illustrated.
Charles E. Wheeler and Eugene V. Connett, ed., "Duck Shooting Along the Atlantic Tidewater," New York, NY, 1947, p. 73.
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