Second Annual Ocracoke Waterfowl Festival in 2019.

Text and photos by Peter Vankevich

Another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Third Annual Ocracoke Waterfowl Festival, scheduled for May 2 has officially been canceled.

“Whether it would be rescheduled in the fall, or just wait until next spring is a decision the guild’s board of directors will have to make when the island reopens,” said John Simpson, president of the Ocracoke Decoy Carvers Guild, which presents the event.

Trying to schedule a full festival in the fall would be a challenge, he said this morning, since there are similar festivals going on almost every weekend throughout the region. He also said the guild may host a smaller event in the fall if the island is back in business.

The first two festivals each attended by more than 500, took place in the Ocracoke School gym which was badly damaged by Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 6. This year’s festival was relocated to the Berkley Barn.

The new Ocracoke Waterfowl Festival may not have the long, storied history of the Ocracoke Invitational Fishing Tournament, that has also been canceled, but this event has been amazingly successful in just two years since the nonprofit guild was officially formed in January 2018.

Ocracoke Decoy Carvers Guild board of directors are, from left, Vince O’Neal, Scotty Robinson, Dave O’Neal, Trudy Austin and John Simpson

Several islanders, including John Simpson, brothers Vince O’Neal and Dave O’Neal, dad and son Dan and Scotty Robinson, Trudy Austin and Stephanie O’Neal, formed the guild to preserve Ocracoke’s long, rich tradition of decoy carving.

“Waterfowling has been a dramatic part of Ocracoke’s heritage and this folk art needs to be kept from becoming a lost art,” Simpson said at the time.

Root head goose carved by Ike O’Neal circa 1920s will be the guild’s logo.

The guild selected a root head goose carved by Ike O’Neal in the 1920s for its logo. These decoys are so named because the head and neck are fashioned from fallen trees on the island, primarily cedar.

After that, the guild got to work and announced it would hold the First Annual Ocracoke Island Waterfowl Festival on Saturday, April 21, 2018, in the Ocracoke School gymnasium. Decoys, many brought in by carvers up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, are the highlight of the festival among other activities.

Dave O’Neal in his Down Point Decoy Shop.

Each year, the festival celebrates a featured carver. The first was Dave O’Neal, owner of the Down Point Decoy Shop, located in Ocracoke’s “down town” and is well-known to decoy collectors throughout the world. One of the few good news stories relating to the destructive impact of Hurricane Dorian, was that unlike most of the neighboring buildings, the shop received minor damage.

Dan Robinson was The Second Annual Waterfowl Festival featured carver. This year, Nathan Spencer was to be honored.

Dan Robinson still has the first decoy he carved, this Bufflehead.

Casey Arthur, a Core Sounder carver from Stacy, Carteret County, was an invaluable consultant, providing encouragement and advice to the guild. 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 soon after its formation, Arthur said he was thrilled to see this new guild. “Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands have a wonderful tradition of carving,” he said.

In December, the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild will host the 33rd Annual Core Sound Decoy Festival on Harker’s Island.

Carver Jason Daniels, who is the captain of the Ocracoke Sheriff’s deputies, recruited 42 students who each carved a Canvasback duck during the 2019 Arts Week.


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