AUGUSTUS AARON “GUS” WILSON (1864-1954)

Oversized Preening Eider Hen Decoy
South Portland, Maine, circa 1890–1910
Softwood, original paint
Height 8 ¼ inches, width 19 inches, depth 9 inches

This is a boldly carved and striking large-sized eider decoy in a dramatic preening position. Its elegant bill tip merges with the back left corner of the inlet, fully completing the graceful turn of the head. It relates to its male companion, an eider drake with carved mussel illustrated in Robert Shaw, Bird Decoys of North America: Nature, History, and Art (New York: Union Square., 2010), p. 149. In William J. Mackey, Jr., American Bird Decoys (New York: Dutton, 1965). p. 242, Quintina Colio describes the characteristics and appeal of Maine decoys: “Massiveness, simplicity, and subtlety dominate the artistic image of Down East (Maine) decoys. Theirs was a unique structure that promised durability and seaworthiness…. Inletting of the head and neck to the body was the superior feature, an architectural detail that required an expert knowledge of wood for its correct use.”

Maine’s preeminent decoy maker, Gus Wilson, was employed as a lighthouse keeper which afforded him the time to produce his exceptionally sculptural decoys. Their scale and design offered seaworthiness, durability, practicality, and effectiveness. Wilson’s genius is demonstrated by his ability to work within existing traditions to elevate the Maine decoy to a higher level of artistic achievement. In addition to his highly distinctive decoys, Wilson is recognized as a folk sculptor of merit for a series of large figures of tigers, including a pair donated to the Brooklyn Museum by Alaister B. Martin.

Provenance:
David A. Schorsch, New York, 1998; Private collection.

Exhibited:
“American Decoys II: A Folk Art Tradition,” David A. Schorsch, New York, 1998.

Published:
Bob and Sharon Huxford, The Collectors Guide to Decoys, vol. II (Paducah, Kentucky: Collector Books, 1992), p. 58, illustrated.
David A. Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, American Decoys II: A Folk Art Tradition (New York and Woodbury, Connecticut: Antiquarian Equities, 1998), pp. 54–55, no. 27, and front cover

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