A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952)
East Harwich, MA, c. 1910
11 in. long
The Crowell feeding black-bellied plover form is among the most popular in all of decoy collecting. Mackey’s American Bird Decoys and Delph’s New England Decoys each feature a feeder, and the fourth known example of this esteemed group resides in the The Paul Tudor Jones Collection. The Jones decoy set the world record for any shorebird decoy, selling at auction for $830,000. The Harmon example differentiates itself from the Mackey, Delph, and Jones examples with its head canted to the left. This Harmon feeding plover and the Jones example are regarded as the top two feeders.
Crowell captures this rare pose perfectly, demonstrating his familiarity with the species. The arched back extends to a tapered neck and round head that is engaged with the space below it, suggesting the pulling of a morsel from the flats. True to the pose, the wing tips and tail are drawn together more closely, in contrast to the splayed tails of its rigmates. The incised primaries extend six inches in length along the lower edges of the wings and continue up the birds back where they resolve with a pronounced hollow between the two wings.
Crowell’s exquisite paint techniques laid atop the masterful sculpture create an illusion of realism unrivaled by any other decoy maker. The bird’s surface is finished with Crowell’s best high-contrast marbleized paint along the lower sides with the back showcasing his signature wet-on-wet paint throughout the mottled feather groups. The underside of the tail is cold-stamped “C. W. LOUD.”
Outstanding original paint with minimal gunning wear
Provenance: C. W. Loud Rig
Seymour Rapaport Collection
Ted and Judy Harmon Collection, acquired from the above, c. 1977
Literature: Brian Cullity, “The Songless Aviary: The World of A. E. Crowell & Son,” Hyannis, MA, 1992, p. 49, pl. II, and p. 59, exact decoy illustrated.
Robert Shaw, “Bird Decoys of North America,” New York, NY, 2010, p. 160, exact decoy illustrated.
John Clayton, “Massachusetts Masters: Decoys, Shorebirds, and Decorative Carvings” The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University, 2010, p. 86, exact decoy illustrated.
Frank Maresca & Roger Ricco, “American Vernacular,” New York, NY, 2002, p. 32, exact decoy illustrated.
Joe Engers, ed., “The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys,” San Diego, CA, 1990, p. 53, exact decoy illustrated.
William J. Mackey Jr., “American Bird Decoys,” New York, NY, 1965, p. 64, pl. III, and dust jacket, related plover illustrated.
John and Shirley Delph, “New England Decoys,” Exton, PA, 1990, dust jacket, related plover illustrated.
Loy S. Harrell Jr., “Decoys: North America’s One Hundred Greatest,” Iola, WI, 2000, p. 98, related plover illustrated.
Stephen B. O’Brien Jr. and Chelsie W. Olney, “Elmer Crowell: Father of American Bird Carving,” Hingham, MA, 2019, p. 305, exact decoy illustrated.
Exhibited: Salem, Massachusetts, “Tollers and Tattlers: Massachusetts Waterfowl Decoys, 1840s–1940s,” Peabody Museum of Salem, October 19, 1989–1992
Sandwich, Massachusetts, “The Songless Aviary: The World of A. E. Crowell & Son,” Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, May 10–October 25, 1992.
Canton, Massachusetts, “A. Elmer Crowell: Master of Decoys and More,” Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon, September 27, 2008–May 10, 2009.
Salisbury, Maryland, “Massachusetts Masters: Decoys, Shorebirds and Decorative Carvings,” Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University, LeMay Gallery, October 1, 2010–January 23, 2011.
Peoria, Illinois, “American Decoy: The Invention,” Peoria Riverfront Museum, February 9–April 28, 2019.
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