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Havre de Grace decoy festival showcases wildlife art for 35th year

The 35th annual Havre de Grace Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival again brought out more than 140 artists, exhibitors and vendors to promote and celebrate the art of decoy carving, even as organizers continue to wonder about the event's future.

The grounds of the Havre de Grace Middle School, as well as the Decoy Museum, were filled with hundreds of carvings both historic and new, joined by various wildlife vendors over Mother's Day weekend.

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"We have known each other as collectors for years. We do these shows two times a year; the camaraderie is there," Nate Hesse, of Chester County, Pa., said about the community the event creates.

Leaders like Pat Vincenti, president of the museum's board of directors, said the holiday did not help attendance, as it was also the first clear and sunny day after a long stretch of rain and gray skies.

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Vincenti said organizers nevertheless decided to "stick it out."

"We have had enough experience with Mother's Day weekend to know that Sunday was going to be basically a bust," he said. "[Saturday] we had a pretty nice day. Sales were brisk."

Havre de Grace hosted the annual Decoy Festival which attracted carvers, artists and collectors from the Mid Atlantic region.
Havre de Grace hosted the annual Decoy Festival which attracted carvers, artists and collectors from the Mid Atlantic region. (Phil Grout / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

"We still have a strong core of dedicated participants that come every year," he said, noting "it's really about the heritage" of decorative decoy carving.

Two of the festival chairs were young carvers from Queenstown, in Queen Anne's County, brothers Daniel Irons, 14, and Jonathan Irons, 12.

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Daniel, who prefers to replicate tropical birds from South or Central America, said: "I like painting the best."

Jonathan showed how his birds feature brass tubes to recreate their habitats, like branches.

"I like doing the painting but I really like doing the habitat, soldering," Jonathan said.

Both boys are "avid bird watchers," their father, Mike Irons, said.

The Havre de Grace show "is great. They have been interacting with some of the old carvers," Mike Irons said.

Longtime collector C. John Sullivan, who noted the face of the event "is graying" every year, said about the Irons brothers: "It's been great to have those young guys. They have had a crowd around them all weekend

Nate Hesse said he did meet a few new people at the festival, and "it's always nice to see new faces."

Sullivan said: "The weekend was pretty decent. We made a few sales. We had some good historic discussions."

Even the interest in decoys today has shifted away from Sullivan's passion, which is historic, used decoys. He showed a handful of well-worn decoys called "shoebills," for their shoe-shaped bills, that date to the 1930s and that he sells for $250 each.

The last time they were used, he said, was in 1953.

"What's important to me is something that has been used, but many of the newer collectors that have come want pristine, unused, untouched decoys," Sullivan explained.

Vincenti said event organizers have "had a critique" and have been throwing out ideas for changes and getting more young people involved, such as possibly having school art classes incorporate carving.

"They are the future of everything we do," Vincenti said about children. "We understand that things are not the same. We have to change with the times, let's put it that way."

His wife, Jeannie Vincenti, was also volunteering at the event.

"I think everything goes in spurts. Overall, the decoy community is still very strong and collectors are still collecting," she said. "As always, it's a pleasure to be here."

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