Ben Schmidt (1884-1968) was probably the most prolific decoy maker in the Detroit- Lake St. Clair region. In his lifetime he made thousands of decoys for his own use and to be sold commercially to sporting goods stores, especially the J.L. Hudson Department Store in Detroit. Ben used old cedar telephone poles for his decoys, most of which were made from two pieces of wood and hollowed out. The most unique and distinctive feature of his decoys was the “feathering,” for which he designed a special tool in various sizes which was placed on the decoy and struck with a hammer, leaving feather shaped indentations.
Interestingly, some friends of mine who lived on the water in South Florida had several Ben Schmidt Canvasback decoys attached to pilings at the end of their dock. The paint was almost completely gone, they were full of shot holes, and they had weathered to a light gray with white trim from seagull droppings. When I admired them, my friends gave me a pair which I cleaned up and waxed (did NOT repaint) and had them looking really nice. Later, someone told those folks that the decoys were worth some money and they asked for them back! I returned them to my “former” friends. While Schmidt decoys are a nice addition to a collection, they are for the most part commercial “production” models and are not worth the small fortunes that Crowell’s, Lincoln’s, Blair’s, etc. would readily bring.
I wanted to capture Schmidt’s stylistic relief feathering, so I made a small replica of his feathering tool and incorporated it into the Wigeon shown here. The Wigeon that I copied was loaned to me by a collector who specialized in Michigan decoys. It was in pristine original condition and NEVER sat on a dock in Florida.