Arts and Leisure

Flashback Photo: Joe Lincoln, Champion Decoy Carver

Joe Lincoln, fascinated by the waterfowl on a nearby pond, began carving miniature decoys as a boy. He grew up to be one of the greatest decoy carvers ever.

Joe Lincoln, detail from photo, Courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Joe Lincoln, detail from photo, Courtesy Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

Joseph Whiting Lincoln was born in 1859 in Hingham, Mass., and lived across from the Accord Pond.

He started carving just for fun. As a teenager he sold his first decoy to a sportsman (they were actually used in hunting) and he was off to the races. He chopped the bodies by hand from cedar or pine and smoothed them with a drawknife. He refused to use power tools because he felt power tools were instruments too blunt for decoy carving. The photo was taken in 1926 by longtime Boston Herald photographer Leslie Jones.

The New York Times called Joe Lincoln ‘a talented Yankee tinkerer and craftsman who could make everything from a camera to a pair of shoes.’ He died in 1938 after spending his life carving decoys from a 10’ by 12’ shed in his yard. Collectors prize his work. In 1986, a wood duck drake by Joe Lincoln sold at auction for $205,000.  His work can be seen at the  Ward Museum in Salisbury, Md

The museum describes Lincoln’s work:

A characteristic Lincoln decoy has a gently raised neck seat that flows into a low rounded chest. Arched backs give way to horizontal tails above flat bottoms. The birds portray several attitudes; some are swimming or preening while others are turned with their bills nestled under a wing. Lincoln’s painting displays sYmmetrical lines, and plumage patterns are simplified to further complement the unadorned carving of the decoy. His style of painting is highly stylized and reflects both brushed and stippled feathers. Lincoln did not limit himself to carving just a few species, but carved brant, buffleheads, canvasbacks, goldeneyes, mallards, mergansers, old squaws, pintails, redheads, ruddy ducks, scaup, teal, whistlers, wigeon and wood ducks. He also produced a handful of other species for special orders.

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