EVER SINCE the first American Indian fashioned a crude likeness of a duck out of straw and mud and with it lured his evening meal down to arrow range, man has made decoys. The Indians went on to make them with stuffed skins and roughly hewn wooden images; the colonists saw and copied the Indian devices, and decoy making became an art. It is one of America's few native crafts and even today, in the work of dedicated wildfowlers, it survives unchanged.
In the last century, decoy making has come of age, with artists both primitive and modern bending their talents to create these hand-carved tools of deception. In spite of mechanical progress and modern mass production the hand-crafted decoy still maintains its place of honor on the current hunting scene.
It remained, however, for a New York architect—Joel Barber—to create for decoys the place they deserve in American folk art. Barber's interest in them started when he found a battered decoy in a loft on Long Island. Stimulated by this find, he began to search for more such relics. Later he wrote a definitive book on the subject, and his collection became the yardstick by which all others were judged. Craftsmanship, design, functionability, artistry and history determined the choice of decoys which shared his workshop. They represent the finest waterfowl lures in America.
Joel Barber died in January 1952 at his workbench in Wilton, Conn. finishing a decoy head. Next May his famed collection, never before publicly available in its entirety, will be on permanent exhibition at the Shelburne Museum, near Burlington, Vt.