Published: April 13, 2004
The Mercer Museum opens a new temporary exhibit, “Ducks, Decoys and the Delaware: A Regional Hunting Tradition” on Saturday, April 17, exploring wildfowl hunting on the lower Delaware River from the late 1800s to the mid-Twentieth Century. The exhibit will focus especially on the regional folk tradition of decoy carving.
The show will include materials borrowed from important private collections, as well as some artifacts and images from the Bucks County Historical Society’s own holdings. Along with an array of public programs, the exhibit will make connections between the natural history, social history and folk culture of the region, portraying the lives of hunters, carvers, boat builders and others whose existence was intimately linked to the river.
More than just decoys – though many stellar examples of this folk art form will be included – the show reveals the links between hunting and carving traditions and the environmental changes seen in the Delaware River during the Twentieth Century. It describes the effects of human activities on the waterway, especially dredging and pollution and their impact on the decline of wildfowl hunting, especially during the mid-1900s. After World War II, the dredging and deepening of the Delaware River from the “falls” at Trenton to the city of Philadelphia resulted in the filling in of many shore marshes that had attracted fowl, sustained favorite foods, such as wild celery and rice, and provided a habitat. Species declined and hunting traditions suffered the same fate.
A major feature of the new exhibit will be an original, well-preserved example of a 1930s duck hunting boat, built by Jess Heisler of Burlington, N.J., and used for many years by members of the Biddle family of Bensalem Township. The watercraft will be on loan courtesy of The Andalusia Foundation. Other materials in the exhibit will include typical firearms, mounted wildfowl specimens, carving tools, rare hunting images and of course decoys by such noted Delaware River carvers and painters as John Blair, the English family, John Dawson, Joe King, Bill Quinn and many others.
Though the emphasis of the exhibit is on working decoys intended for hunting, the show acknowledges and portrays the growth in decoy carving as decorative art during the second half of the Twentieth Century. The exhibit’s subject matter is expected to attract a diverse au-dience of folk art enthusiasts, hunters and sportsmen and those interested in the natural and environmental history of the Delaware region.
Serving as volunteer consultants to the exhibit are Bob and Pauline White of Tullytown, Bucks County. One of the last traditional decoy carvers, Bob White continues to craft decoys in his shop in Tullytown. In a video being produced especially for the exhibit, White will demonstrate his craft and show the traditional method of setting out and using decoys on the river. The video may be viewed continuously during the exhibit’s run.
The show will run through January 2. Also on view at the Mercer Museum is the popular children’s exhibit, “Animals on the Loose,” which has been extended through 2004.
The Mercer Museum is at 84 South Pine Street. For information, 215-345-0210 or www.mercermuseum.org.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm