Story and Photo by Stefanie Jackson – The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo screened the documentary, “From the Marsh: Decoy Carvers from Jersey to Carolina,” May 15.
The 32-minute film by Jim Talone and J.P. Hand, with music by Thelma Peterson, offers a peek into the workshops of master carvers along the mid-East Coast.
The documentary explores the relationship between the craftsmen (calling a decoy carver an “artist” may be offensive and likened to calling him a “hippie”) and their work.
Decoy carving was traditionally a skill passed down from father to son. Decoys weren’t art to be put on a shelf to collect dust, they were tools to be used for a practical purpose, hunting. Often hunters made their own decoys simply because they couldn’t afford to buy them.
The Eastern Shore’s own Grayson Chesser talked about the decoy carvers that influenced him and helped him become a master carver.
For one, he admires the work of Nathan Cobb for its “illusion of motion.” The late Cigar Daisey, of Chincoteague, was one of the youngest master carvers who mentored him, he said.
Chesser believes every decoy carver should pass down the tradition along with his personal decoy carving tips and tricks.
“Why would you want to keep any knowledge (to yourself)?” Chesser says in the film. “When you’re dead, you’re dead.”