Created by an unknown carver on a small, rocky Maine island twelve miles out to sea, this unique decoy is an extremely sophisticated work of American sculpture that exudes majesty, power, refinement, and quiet elegance. The bird’s gently rounded and reductive body form, the flowing lines of its deceptively simple carving and paint, and the gorgeous negative space described by the throat of its inlet head combine in a proud and graceful masterpiece. Although it was made as a hunter’s tool, this is an unsurpassed expression of intuitive aesthetic genius, a bird portrait as expressive as the best of Audubon and a work of art worthy of comparison with any American painting or sculpture.
Seagoing eiders and scoters were among the most common species of the Maine coast. Eiders and scoters, which dive to feed on mussels and other mollusks, congregate around ocean shoals, so hunting them requires considerable skill with a boat as well as with a shotgun. Maine decoys for these species were typically flat-bottomed, with the head inlet into the body. Simple, unshaded painting broadly outlined the species' plumage patterns.
This singular decoy was part of the incomparable collection of the late Dr. James M. McCleery, which also included classic works by such acclaimed carvers as John Blair Sr., William Bowman, Hucks Caines, Nathan Cobb Jr., Elmer Crowell, Lothrop Holmes, Joseph Lincoln, Obediah Verity, Lem and Steve Ward, and Gus Wilson. Dr. McCleery, who is widely considered the greatest of all decoy connoisseurs, considered this particular decoy the finest he owned, and, because of his devotion to it, the McCleery family withheld it from the auction of his collection by Guyette and Schmidt and Sotheby’s in January 2000. It has never been offered publicly before.
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