Another dismaying trend is the growing number of fish that are made specifically for the art market. Many modern carvers eschew the simple lines and impressionistic paint jobs of old-time decoys in favor of the hyperrealism prevalent in modern wildlife art. Burt Hyatt, a carver living in northern Minnesota, painstakingly cuts up to 600 scale marks into each of his decoys. Selling for roughly $40 each, few of Hyatt's decoys take the plunge.
Are such self-conscious imitations really folk art? Kimball, for one, thinks not. "When they all get realistic, they start looking alike," he says. "It takes away from the provincial quality of the fish."
Richards, too, prefers his fish "honest," whittled in the long, lonely hours of a northern winter. If the maker carved a lip with a whimsical curl or lavished the piece with colorful paint, it's fine with Richards.
"These are folk art," he says as he shows visitors the dozens of decoys on display in the lodge of his cross-country ski resort. "They weren't made for the market."