Self-taught Carver Is Master Of Decoys

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DSC_057By Bostik Johnson

Take one look into Doug Gibson’s workshop in Milford, Delaware and you will be mesmerized by the number of decoys he has carved. Take a look at one of his hand carved decoys and you will be captivated by the immense details he puts into his work. Take one look at Doug Gibson himself and you will be fascinated by his passion.

Mr. Gibson is 90 years old and still spends every day in his workshop hand carving life like decoys without even referencing a picture. Each decoy can take up to 100 hours to create because every little detail has to be perfect. Each decoy starts off as a block of wood and finishes as a hauntingly realistic piece of art.

Mr. Gibson has spent the last 30 years perfecting his talent of creating decoys. He began his exploration into the art of decoys when one day he decided to pick up a knife and carve a little goose.

“After that I went to a Ward Brothers show and I told my wife I could do this,” Mr. Gibson commented. “I just decided to teach myself and see where it goes from there.”

Teaching is in Mr. Gibson’s blood, as he taught Engineer Design and Architecture at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown Delaware for 21 years. You can see his passion for teaching at one of his Wednesday night decoy classes he hosts at his workshop.

“All of my students are amazed the first night they attend one of my classes to see how much they can achieve here,” Mr. Gibson said. “I taught school for 39 years and when it comes to teaching and getting information over to the student, I think I’m pretty good at it.”
Mr. Gibson accepts five to six students for his classes because he wants to make sure he gets enough one on one interaction with them. He said at the end of the eight week course no one leaves with a bad decoy because if it’s looking bad, he will be the first to tell you to try again from the beginning.

When it comes to decoys, Mr. Gibson is a perfectionist. He textures each feather from top to bottom with thousands of carvings impeded into a single wing. He uses tools ranging from Pneumatic sanders, power saws, joiners, band saws, and a pen shaped tool to burn each detail into the decoy. The decoys themselves are made from woods that are native to the Eastern Shore including sugar pine, aromatic red cedar, and basswood.

Gibson’s decoys range from mallard ducks, canvasback ducks, geese, quails, and scaups. Mr. Gibson creates each decoy with different attitudes and personalities to add to the realism. After each decoy has been carved and detailed, Mr. Gibson then starts the tedious process of painting the decoy with acrylic paint. He stresses the importance of painting each decoy with the appropriate colors.

“You can put in over 40 hours of detailing into a decoy but if your colors do not match the color of that bird, then all of that time spent was a waste,” Gibson adds.

Mr. Gibson’s decoys sell from $300 and up with some selling for over $1,500, but Gibson does not believe in creating decoys solely for money.

“I never want to get into a big deal of selling, it’s a hobby, I do it when I feel like I’m up to it, and when I don’t feel like doing it, I concentrate on my two acres of gardens,” Mr. Gibson commented. “You really have to enjoy creating decoys to do it right and only focusing on selling would take my passion out of it.”