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Decoy exhibit: it’s the real deal

August 25, 2012
MIKE LYNCH, Outdoors Writer , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - An exhibit that is focused on wildlife carvings is currently being displayed at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.

It features carvings from John Lawrence, Al Jordan, Zach Benson, Rich Hollis and Bill Sarni. In addition, Joey Lawrence has some of her drawings and paintings on display.

The show is called "In the air and on the water, the magic world of bird and wildfowl art." It opened on Aug. 3 and runs until Sept. 8. The exhibit is sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, Altai Expeditions and Sara Jane and William DeHoff.

Article Photos

Photo/nancie Battaglia
Al Jordan and a red-tailed hawk carving.

While none of the artists are local, Benson does have ties to the Lake Placid area. Benson, whose decoys are part of the show, moved to Lake Placid in 2002 after graduating from SUNY Potsdam.

His first summer here Benson worked as a fly fishing guide for Jones Outfitters in Lake Placid. He then went on to work for five summers in Alaska as a guide, spending his winters in Lake Placid.

That first year in Lake Placid, Benson developed what is now a passion of his: he started making decoys.

In college, Benson was a studio art major. He said his desire to make decoys evolved from the merging of "his love for the arts and love of the outdoors." His first decoys were of golden eye ducks, which he said weren't being made for hunters by large companies.

A duck hunter, Benson said decoy carving makes the activity even more enjoyable.

"One of the most rewarding things about the decoy carving is that it extends the hunt throughout the year," said Benson, who now lives in Canton. "It made me look a lot more closely at the game that I was harvesting. A hen mallard wasn't just a hen duck anymore."

He began to notice the little details in the make up of the animal and used them in his carvings. That's something that seems to be common among these artists. Jordan, a master falconer whose speciality is raptors, has spent many hours learning more about the birds he carves.

"You need to thoroughly understand the anatomy of the birds and how they're put together. The ins and outs of each particular species," said Jordan, who lives in Rochester. "Mother nature built these birds slightly different. ... Exactness to the species is of utmost importance, which means size, shape color, number of feathers, etc."

Jordan has been carving birds for about 25 years and has been doing it full time for about five. For his efforts, he's won numerous awards. In 2010, he won the National Shorebird Championship. In 2008, he won the North American Championship. His work is housed in both private and corporate collections, as well as being featured in a permanent exhibit in Denali National Park. He's also been named New York State Wildlife Sculpture of the Year numerous times.

"There's not a bird in the show that has taken me less than two months to do," Jordan said. "It's a long, time- consuming process. Each feather is individual cut and carved and manipulated. Not separately. It's part of the original block. It's a lot like sculpture. Basically, it is a sculpture. The only difference being sculpture is done by addition with clay. You add and keep adding. This is sculpture, but it's by removal."

One difference between Jordan and Benson is that Benson's works of art sometimes still find themselves out on the water. Benson carves his decoys out of cedar and doesn't use cork, which is traditionally used in decoys. That makes them a little more fragile than traditional decoys, but he still enjoys using them.

"They are pieces of art work floating in your hunting spread," Benson said. "It's like a guy who ties flies for fly fishing. It adds another element to the hunt that I truly enjoy. And you know, I get more pleasure out of watching my rig of birds float along the waves on the lake than I would harvesting a full bag."



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