Stratford, CT Bluebill
Much like there was a “Blair School” of decoy carving in the Delaware River region, there is a style of decoy that evolved around Stratford, Ct. called the “Stratford School,” which resulted in a classic look, characterized by my friend and author Dixon Merkt as “Made in Connecticut.” For a full and comprehensive look at Connecticut decoy history, I highly recommend Dixon’s book, SHANG.
There are many “big name” decoy makers who came from regions around the Mystic, Housatonic and Connecticut Rivers. Among these are a “big three” legendary makers whose decoys are held in the highest regard by collectors and decoy people in general. They are Charles “Shang” Wheeler (1872-1949), Albert Laing 1811-1886) and Ben Holmes (1843-1912).
All of the great Connecticut makers made hollow decoys which were lighter, and therefore easier to carry, and they rode higher in the water, creating better visibility for moving flocks of ducks. They generally had elongated bodies and were slimmer in the forward area to ride better in strong currents or icy conditions. For the most part their paint patterns were effective but fairly simple, with Shang Wheeler’s paint something of an exception and highly detailed.
I must admit that I “borrowed” one of my favorite characteristics of Shang’s painting techniques for use on my own rig of Black Duck decoys (see the “Duck decoy” section of my website): painting the head a dark brown and then laying on a rather thick coat of white or off-white oil paint and scratching “feathers” into the wet paint with a sharpened stick. I also borrowed his body style as well, thanks to Dixon sharing Shang’s patterns with me. For a pure working decoy, and the general hunting conditions I usually encountered, the Shang Wheeler style decoy is unsurpassed. Nothing else comes close.
The Bluebill featured here was replicated from a classic Shang Wheeler in Dixon’s extensive collection.