David O'Neal, left, featured carver at the first Ocracoke Waterfowl Festival April 21, talks with Scotty Robinson.
David O’Neal, left, featured carver at the first Ocracoke Waterfowl Festival April 21, talks with Scotty Robinson. Photo by Trudy Austin

By Connie Leinbach

An unbelievable amount of talent was on display at the first annual Ocracoke Waterfowl Festival April 21.

That was the observation of Frank and Barbara Davide of Little Egg Harbor, N.J.

“It’s a great show,” Frank said, noting that while the couple usually vacations on the island in the summer, they decided to visit for a second time in April.

“We felt so bad you lost power last summer,” Barbara said. “We decided to come twice this year.”

Jason Daniels of Ocracoke displays his flying Canada Goose. Photo: P. Vankevich

The decoy show was the brainchild of the newly formed Ocracoke Island Decoy Carver’s Guild, helmed by John Simpson, who, along with others, was pleased with the turnout of both exhibitors and attendees.

“It was a very nice variety of work, from minimal to fancy,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments. All the volunteers worked very hard.”

Simpson estimated 550 to 600 attended including those who helped and exhibited. Carvers and collectors from the island and the region set up tables to show and sell their carvings of redheads, ruddy ducks, blue bills, swans, geese, shorebirds and more.

The sound of various duck calls at Gary Ansell’s “Killum Calls” display frequently punctuated the atmosphere in the Ocracoke School gym where the festival was held.

White cedar is the preferred duck decoy medium, said Belton Gray Jr. of Hatteras, who is a newcomer to the art form.

“Carvers say the wood talks to you, and it’s true,” he said. “Every piece has its own character. When you start, you tend to go the way the wood wants.”

Decoys are now considered an authentic form of American Folk Art. In addition to the show, food and merchandise sales, the festival featured a duck head-carving contest in which several carvers had just one hour to finish. Russell Fish of Chincoteague, Virginia, used only a carving knife while others in the contest brought a few other tools, such as sandpaper. He captured third place.

Jerry Talton took first place and Casey Arthur placed second. Next year’s festival is scheduled for Saturday, April 20. Dan Robinson of Ocracoke will be the featured carver.

John Simpson, president of the Ocracoke Island Decoy Carvers Guild, fields questions at the Waterfowl Festival. Photo: C. Leinbach
Islander Eddie O’Neal, now of Virginia Beach, showed his many carvings. Photo: P. Vankevich
Eugene Merrill traveled from Chincoteague, Va., to display his carvings. Photo: P. Vankevich
Island carver Chip Evans, right, talks with his father, Crawford Evans. Photo: C. Leinbach
Jenny and Belton Gray Jr. of Hatteras are thrilled to be a part of Ocracoke’s first waterfowl festival. Photo: C. Leinbach
Jonah Daniels and Gary Ansell of Moyock, whose sound effects punctuated the decoy festival, demonstrate the various sounds hunters can make with Ansell’s duck calls. Photo: C. Leinbach


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