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Contests and Judging

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Contests and Judging
Good morning, All~


I imagine many of you have experiences with contests of one sort or another - and probably many have served as judges. In preparation for the March 7 Contemporary Decoy Exhibition at the Long Island Decoy Collectors Annual Show in Hauppauge (see Stickies above) , I have just firmed up my panel of judges. In so doing, I was sent an exceptional bit of writing about the topic of judges. I am keeping the author Anonymous for now - but I really enjoy the sentiments:



A good judge is a good naturalist. He has spent time in the field, he's observed, he's absorbed, he's looked, he's listened. Not casually, intensely. He's noticed that black ducks carry their primaries down and their tails up when they are relaxed, and that scoters do the same thing, sort of, for different reasons when they are about to dive again. He notices that black bellied plovers land, and spread out, and begin their plover-specific look, scoot, grab freeze and repeat. He knows that dowitchers feed like sewing machines and that their eyes are set back, and high, but not as far back and high as a woodcock. He knows that peregrines like to be around water, and can raise hell on just about everyone else, if they want to. He knows that northern parulas like to be around water too and can somehow find their way around tent catepillar condominiums. He knows his fair share of botany, and he knows that certain species of birds like certain species of plants. In short, he understands habitat. Some of our best naturalists have been hunters and have intimate knowledge; they've handled enough canvasbacks to know about that little triangle they have on their throats, or that the dark crown line that dips down ever so slightly above a black duck's eye, and that adult pintail hens lose some of that beautiful barring on their tertials. He knows that greenwings fly with their heads cocked differently than blue wings, and hooded mergansers fly with their heads positioned like no other.




A good judge is an artist. He understands shape, and color. And attitude. He knows the difference between the gray browns in a hen canvasback and the warm browns of a common eider hen. But he's not just looking for anatomy, or ornithological verisimilitude. Like an artist, he judges each bird according to perceived intent. If the bird he is judging is a purely functional, working decoy, he judges it with regard to its utility, and its ability to suggest species essence. If the bird is a fancy pants "show" decoy, he judges it according to that intent. If the rules don't specify, he is able to compare both, apples to oranges, and picks the bird which most achieves its relative intent. Further, if the rules don't state, or imply, he shows no personal preference to either. He picks the best bird, whether it's a contemporary smoothie, or a working stool. He judges the bird in front of him and compares it to the bird next to it. What has won, or lost, in other shows, past and future, is irrelevant. A knowledge of old decoy styles and past shows is helpful, and useful, particularly with regard to questions of creativity, and originality.




A good judge is honest. He has no preconceived notion or agenda. He has no friends, and no enemies. He has the ability, and integrity, to reward the work of a detestable lout, and deny the work of a beloved comrade. He works as 1/3 or 1/5 of a team and strives toward arriving at a consensual, mutual decision based on an understanding of a contest, and the rules of that contest. He knows that above all else that his decision is only his honest opinion on a given day.







Your thoughts?


All the best,


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Judges should do their best to encourage, not discourage carvers.
Ken
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
 
Gunning decoys are NOT taxidermy, etc. they are "vessels", individual expressions of personal taste and observation.

Distance is the true judge of gunning decoys.

At any distance from 10 yards, to 100 yards, all that is seen are a shape/lump, and blocks of color. Details mean nothing to the birds.

Details in many of today's "gunning decoy" contests mean everything, to some folks, organizations, and judges.


Decorative decoys are another story.

Then you can get deep into the science, etc., more than the personal artistic endeavor art/style, and nit pick the hell out of whatever is worth nit picking about.


Gunning decoys, and taxidermy are two different genres, and should be respected, and treated a such.

When they are deeply blended - clone, no personal, or local style appears. All the work looks the same, much like plastic decoys, no soul.


Over legislation, and rules are the death of art, personal style & creativity. They do more harm than good.


There may well be more decoys carvers today than any other time in North American history.

Yet very few enter contests. Why?


Being a honest judge is a thankless job, that creates more dislike than like.

The things one learns when judging, are both good,and shocking.


We must include, not exclude, if we want to save the contests and shows that still remain.


my 2 cents
VP











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Your description of a good judge is right on, in a perfect world. Like Vince mentioned about being a judge everyone that enters the contest thinks they should win with there entry
but there is only one winner. Why, because the judges said so. Some of the entry's go away with mixed feelings and will they be back next year maybe and maybe not. I give you and
your associates a lot of credit for putting on this show. Keep up the good work.

Tom
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Well said Vince
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
The trick to a decoy contest is to make a bird that the judge wants to take home with him.


As far as entries, shipping birds to and from can be very expensive for those of us that do not live near shows

I think more issues...in atleast the gunning shows...is with the prejudging.

Last edited by:

Matt DeFore: Feb 18, 2020, 12:08 PM
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
I think EVERYONE who enters should receive a nice, shiny trophy, with nothing on it, so no one's feelings are forever harmed. You REALLY don't believe that, do you?
Yes Virginia, there is a BIG disparity between a decoy and d?cor.
The big problem is that everywhere, the roots seem to be ignored or omitted. Unfortunately, WITHOUT the roots, the tree dies.
Well spoken, Vince.Wink
george@runamuckdecoys.com
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Good morning, All~

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

I was especially intrigued by one of Vince's ideas: "There may well be more decoys carvers today than any other time in North American history. Yet very few enter contests. Why?"

When I established this event, my goal was simply to provide a venue and opportunity for today's carvers to show what they're doing. There are other shows, but none on Long Island, the location of the first-ever decoy contest (in Bellport in 1923). Since the US National closed it doors in 1994, there have been a few short-lived attempts. My preference would have been a simple "exhibition" and not a competition. Others suggested that carvers would not participate without the chance of ribbons and so it is presented as a contest. I nevertheless tried to keep it very simple, with few "rules" such that disqualification is virtually impossible.

I appreciate everyone's thoughts about gunners. Although the rules for every "gunning" contest I have seen use the same words for the paint job: "easily reproduced by the average hunter" - I have almost never seen this standard applied as written. Ribbons always seem to go to those birds with the most sophisticated paint work. It seems that revered gunning decoys like Wildfowlers, LL Beans, Al McCormicks and the like would have no chance in today's contests.

Nevertheless, we seem to be growing slowly but surely. We never know how many entries we will have until the morning of the show. Inquiries from new and interested carvers trickle in, so I remain optimistic that enthusiasm for our little exhibition will meet a need and all will enjoy the experience.

Back to Vince's thought? I wonder what participation we would get IF it were just an opportunity to show one's work WITHOUT the trappings of a contest....

And, I wonder if F. Scott Fitzgerald was a duck hunter.....

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.?

All the best,

SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


Last edited by:

Steve Sanford: Feb 19, 2020, 3:31 AM
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Good morning, Ken~


I just got the ribbons in the mail. I had ordered lots of extra Honorable Mentions for the reason you mention.



All the best,


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to

Steve- I took a photo of this while visiting the Ward Museum this fall. A nice piece of decoy history.


Great South Bay
West Sayville, N Y
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Good morning, Tom~


Wonderful! I had not seen that before.



I am guessing that the judge G. M. Smith from Patchogue is none other than Gil Smith, boatbuilder extraordinaire - and a pretty fair carver as well!



See you soon,


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Any relation to Reggie Smith - outstanding decoy carver
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Joe- there might be a connection. Gilbert Monroe Smith was originally from Moriches or the HAMPTON bays area until he opened up on the Patchogue River. His mother was a Hallock ( his nephew Benjamin was a boat builder , designed the SS sloop). He married into the Terry family so he lots of family on the east end.


Great South Bay
West Sayville, N Y
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Yes Steve, and this is John Boyle?s copy.


Great South Bay
West Sayville, N Y
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Tom~


Yes - my Scooter (the TED SANFORD) was built by Ben Hallock - in Center Moriches I believe.


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
I have some decoys from Reggie Smith and Walt Smith. I believe they are from Moriches. I also have a couple of George Robert Black ducks. George is from Mastic and I cannot find much information on him. Any help from the Long Island decoy group greatly appreciated.

Joe
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Good morning, Joe~


I believe Dick Richardson knows lots about George Robert.


See you soon,


SJS

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Joe- I pulled this off the Ward museum page. maybe you could start a thread about him with a few photos of his decoys?

Regards- Tom

Mastic is located on the south shore of Long Island. In the early years of the 20th Century, the marsh and meadows of the area drew hunters looking for blackduck.
George Robert, an avid duck hunter, is credited by some as having produced the quintessential black duck stool. Made from natural cork with a keel and three links of chain for ballast, Robert?s wide, flat bottomed stools rode well in the rough waters on the south shore. To create a ?soft velvety appearance? that simulated the appearance of a black duck at a distance, Robert burned his decoys with a blowtorch and hand rubbed them with water. He is also credited with a number of shorebird decoys carved from wood.
During his active years, Robert carved hundreds of decoys. He influenced a number of regional carvers including John H.B. Boyle (dates unknown) of Bellport, a member of the committee which put together the 1923 Bellport Decoy Show, considered the first ?real? decoy show in America.


Great South Bay
West Sayville, N Y
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Information much appreciated. I will ask Dick when I see him at the show, He is a wealth of knowledge regarding South Shore decoys from that area.


Joe
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
  

Steve, you touched on one point, a driving influence I suspect motivates most hunters: I wonder whether I could make a decoy better or as good as the one I am holding in my hand? After completion of the first one, a growing influence on a subset of these folks is: Can I make another one that is better than my last attempt? Most of these folks continue to carve and paint their own birds, either until they reach a completed rig of that species for their own use. Some, simply switch to another species and keep going, driven by the pure satisfaction of crafting birds via their own hands, plans, tools and ideas. George Williams frequently engages in his oft repeated: 'So many carvers, so few decoy makers' pronouncement, but in those words is a nugget of truth that I view he misses. Some folks have no interest in trying to turn a hobby into a vocation; since the drive to turn a profit on an individual carving basis detracts from the time and effort they would normally put into carving a bird they are proud of, since it represents their best efforts. I suspect that this set of carvers are the ones who gravitate to competitions and competitive carvings, since they feel rewarded via their success when judged by individuals who, over their time and efforts, evolve into their peers. Via this avenue, not only are they emotionally rewarded, but in many instances their reward is a monetary one as well, since they charge more for their carvings as demand among collectors of competitive carvings inflates what they can charge, improving profit margins per bird. di

I viewed an interview of you, Steve, long before I connected the person with Steve Sanford on Duckboats.net. It was quite interesting overall, but one statement stood out: A comment you made about decoy carvers being very concerned about a small fraction of an inch in symmetry and their efforts to eliminate it in a carving. This is the larger set of carvers who go on to competitive carving, via their individual efforts to drive that fractional increment of symmetry difference toward zero, applying paint the enables the bird to be an accurate mimic of a living copy of that species.

I frequently get asked to what I would charge to carve X number of heads...when I try to explain that most of the time and effort put into making a decoy goes into the head detail and carving, my cost estimate is well outside their expectation; oddly they assume heads are a small expenditure of time since they are a small proportion of a decoy's overall size. After layout and bandsawing, I can finish a body to sand in 1.5hours to two hours maximum, while a head will take up to ten hours of time to just get it to the eye placement stage.

My start was from sketching Ben Schmidt, Miles Pirnie, and Jim Wick's birds in a display case in one of the side hallways in the basement of the MSU Natural Resources building where I worked in a lab. across the hall. I eventually met Jim Wick's at a commercial duck camp, enjoying his company while talking ducks and waterfowling for nearly a decade. I have never considered submitting a bird to a carving contest, largely because I carve for my own satisfaction and personal pleasure...as my individual therapy partially, but also in my own right, to keep the overall existence of hand built craftsmanship alive and vibrant in a culture where selfies are the dominant "art form" and social media is viewed by many as the culmination of self-expression and truth, even when much of the content isn't anywhere close to non-fiction. There is something oddly hollow in those words....

Last edited by:

RLLigman: Feb 21, 2020, 3:54 AM
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Steve, I love your defanition of A good judge, All very well put .Having been that route many times over the YRS.
At the same time from what i have observed ONE FAVORATISM,or GET EVEN TIME from a previous show, instead of the best real bird acording to the writtian rules., I KNOW that will never happen at your show. THANK GOD. Paul
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Good morning, Rick~


Thanks for sharing your very interesting thoughts. They support my personal view of eschewing decoy competitions as such, but.... I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to "show-and-tell" my own works as well as "see-and-hear" the works of other carvers. It occurred to me just now - walking in from the shop having just stoked the stove against the 3 degree air - that the "What's on your is Work Bench ?" post here at duckboats.net serves the very function I try to provide through the Contemporary Decoy Exhibition. Anyone - carvers and non-carvers alike - can appreciate, learn from, and be inspired by the work of others - and engage in conversation, too.



One distinct advantage of the "exhibition" is that the decoys can be seen (and sometimes handled) in the 3D "flesh". I am looking forward to our March 7 event for many reasons, but one major one will be to see in person the works of others.'


All the best,


SJS





Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
Steve, you touch on the component of waterfowl shows that, to me, is the most personally worthwhile and rewarding. I refer to the displays as the "farmers market" for waterfowling gear and memorabilia vendors and decoy carvers who attend to display their carvings. That is the competition show aspect that I miss due to my remote location...
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
I think being a judge sometimes is a thankless job. I remember a few years ago Heck Rice got hammered by a couple well known carvers because their birds got kicked out. Someone as nice as Heck being treated and spoke to that way, really bothered me.

I've always sort of shied away from the tank shows for gunners, the eye candy and details that aren't really needed really do pop in hand that may not have from 20 yards out, and I imagine its hard to ignore. It takes judges that can see past the superfluous stuff. But also I've seen "gunners" win or do extremely in pool and lake contests that were not built to be gunners, unsealed keels, exposed screwheads water can easily wick its way up into the body...birds that are made to withstand a few moments in a pool, not seasons in the field...but you cant see that from even 10ft away. Definitely cases of looks over function. You pay your money and take your chances I guess. I wish I could support every show, but money becomes an issue. Find the ones that the type of birds you like to do seem to do well in and stick with them. I admit I got to a point I was carving for shows and not for myself..and honestly thats when I started to lose some interest in carving, just wasnt as much fun anymore.

Last edited by:

Matt DeFore: Feb 21, 2020, 7:18 AM
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Re: Contests and Judging In reply to
 
Steve & Rick

The idea of Decoy Get Togethers without major, or any competitions is a very good one, and may well be the future that we all need.


As many of the old timers know, most of the old shows were more about showing each others work, and collections of all types of outdoor gear and art.

They were gatherings of much fun, interaction, appreciation, and learning. There were just a few contests, and many entries.


Then the specter of big $$$$ contests, celebrity status carvers, buy my book, etc. took hold and became the norm.

The playing field, and the shows became much more one sided, and serious business for some. And "Who Needs That" for most others.


Now a days "most others" stay home, and just in their own area, and keep the decoy carving/making tradition going strong. Could be stronger than is has ever been.

How we get them all together, to intermingle and have FUN without costing a arm and a leg is up to us.


The old Ohio show drew carvers, artists, collectors, new folks with interest, of all stripes from all four flyways.

A person could see and touch decoys, art, and outdoor trappings that they never would anywhere else. It was eye opening, and exciting.

If we could bottle that, and pour it out again it would be a wonderful thing.


VP











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920