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By Peter Vankevich
Ocracoke has a long, rich tradition of decoy carving and now more people will learn about it. The first organizational meeting of the newly formed Ocracoke Island Decoy Carvers Guild met last Wednesday evening (Jan. 10) at the Community Center. The Ocracoke Foundation sponsors this nonprofit organization.
The brainstorm of John Simpson, Vince O’Neal, Dave O’Neal, Dan and Scotty Robinson among others, the guild’s mission will be to conserve and promote decoys of the area.
With open membership ($25 yearly), the guild particularly encourages decoy carvers, whittlers, collectors and those who would like to learn carving to join.
John Simpson gave an overview of how and why the guild formed and some of their expected activities. “Waterfowling has been a dramatic part of Ocracoke’s heritage and this folk art needs to be kept from becoming a lost art,” he said.
He presented a slate of directors which included himself as president; Vince O’Neal, vice-president; Scotty Robinson, treasurer and Trudy Austin, Dave O’Neal and Dan Robinson as directors at-large. The secretary position had no takers as of yet. The dozen or so attendees unanimously approved the slate.
The guild selected a root head goose carved by Ike O’Neal in the 1920s for their logo. These type decoys gets their name because the head and neck are fashioned from fallen trees on the island, primarily cedar.
The guild will sponsor the First Annual Ocracoke Island Waterfowl Festival which will take place on Saturday, April 21 at the Ocracoke School gymnasium. Islander Dave O’Neal, owner of the Down Point Decoy Gallery, will be this year’s featured carver. The festival will have on display decoys, have raffles and presentations on the art of carving and food. The exhibitor’s registration form was handed out.
Monthly meetings will have specific topics and presentations including on some of the historical island carvers and suggestions for those interested in learning the techniques of carving and whittling.
“We’ve been talking about organizing a group for about 20 years”, said Vince O’Neal. “It’s so nice to see we finally have it started.”
Eastern North Carolina has a long and proud tradition of decoy carving and there are popular decoy festivals in the region. This weekend, the Hyde County Waterfowl Association hosted the 8th Annual two-day Mattamuskeet Decoy & Waterfowl Festival at the Mattamuskeet High School gym. The event kicked off with a Friday evening banquet at the Davis School gym.
In December, The Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild held its 30th Annual Core Sound Decoy Festival on Harkers Island.
Simpson singled out Casey Arthur, a Core Sounder carver from Stacy, Carteret County, for providing encouragement and advice. Arthur, a passionate carver and mentor, is a long-term member and director of the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild and frequent visitor to Ocracoke.
In a telephone conversation, Arthur said he was thrilled to see this new guild. “Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands have a wonderful tradition of carving,” he said.
“Getting this group organized will greatly help people learn and appreciate this art. We’ll be glad to help out in any way we can.”
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, in the Community Center. All are welcomed to attend.
For more information, contact John Simpson, 509-930-4988, Vince O’Neal, 252-921-0112, Scotty Robinson, 252-921-0410, or any guild board member.