OCCA welcomes Frank Werner and his wood birds, decoys and rigs of decoys. The word decoy comes to us from the Dutch expression “ende-kooy,” in which ende (duck) and Kooy (a sort of trap or cage) are combined.
Decoys made of tule dating back almost 1200 years were discovered in a cave near Lovelock, Nev. in 1924. There are many forms of decoy carving.
“My birds follow a ‘Western Tradition’ in visual form, an eclectic mix of formal elements drawn from older established regional traditions. Mine have the flat bottoms, keels and hard chines so common to decoys from the upper Midwest,” Werner explained.
“My divers, the canvasbacks, scaup and redheads have the elegant Chesapeake-style heads riding atop chunky coastal Carolina bodies, “ he continued. “Mallard, pintail and wigeon heads, as in New England stool, assume a variety of attitudes. Their bodies, above the waterline, resemble decoys of the upper Delaware River.”
Werner began making decoys without much thought to anything other than hunting ducks. In 1983, the Idaho Commission on the Arts (ICA) began a survey of folk art and folk artists in Idaho.
He was “discovered and catalogued,” and, in 1984, ICA borrowed three of his ducks for a traveling folk art exhibition. He is still involved with ICA, working as a master artist for the Idaho Traditional Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program.
His experience with the exhibition brought him into contact with the contemporary arts community, beginning in the late 1980s, and the experience has been both productive and aesthetically satisfying. Werner has earned two Idaho Commission on the Arts Visual Arts Fellowships.
He has also written numerous articles for publications including Art Matters, Artifact Magazine, and Wildfowl Art.
“Decoys resemble live birds, more or less. Yet, I resist identifying them as representational art – such as a painting or a sculpture of some object,” Werner declared. “Mimetic art exists in order to represent something. Decoys exist in order to attract game to a place where it may be killed. The essence of this art form, its semiotic investment, its social, cultural and aesthetic identity emanates from what it is and what it is used for; not from what it looks like.” A variety of birds will be represented in this exhibit.