Canvasback Drake, Lee Dudley (1860-1942)
Canvasback Drake, Lee Dudley (1860-1942)
Lee Dudley (1860-1942)
Knotts Island, NC, c. 1890
13 1/2 in. long
Dudley decoys have been held in the highest regard since the earliest days of decoy collecting. In fact, two seminal books on decoy collecting, William J. Mackey, Jr.’s "American Bird Decoys" and Joel Barber’s "Wild Fowl Decoys," both begin their first chapter with stories of Dudley decoys and the authors' reverence for them. Barber's particular love of Dudleys is illustrated in the initial three plates of his book; the first of which depicts two Dudley decoys prominently displayed top and center on a collection wall. In 1981, a panel of experts reviewing the decoy collection at the Shelburne Museum declared a Dudley decoy of Barber's to be the best of the collection.
This decoy is one of the finest examples of a Dudley canvasback ever to be offered at auction. It is believed to have been made for use at the Dudley’s Island Club, which was owned by Lee’s twin brother, Leonard V. Dudley (1860-1932). The underside of the bird retains the original weight and a faint brand that appears to be “F R.," possibly for Frank Reese from Currituck, North Carolina. The body is long and graceful and the raised wing tips are carved in a sharp V-shape. This bird has sophisticated head carving with a refined bill, pronounced crown, and full cheeks. William J. Mackey, Jr. was so impressed with Dudley's work that he proclaimed “the heads on Dudley’s decoys are the finest the writer has ever seen.”
This rare example carries excellent provenance and is in very good condition by Dudley and regional standards. These two points cannot be overstated when considering Dudley decoys. The provenance leads directly from the Mackey Collection, to the Megargee Collection, to the O’Brien Collection. Additionally, it was illustrated in the July/August 1988 issue of "Decoy Magazine" for winning ‘Best in Show’ among other awards at the Mid-Atlantic Wildfowl Festival in Virginia Beach. Joe French illustrated this exact decoy in the Megargee Collection as part of his "Decoy Magazine" series “Early Decoy Days.”
Though it is likely that Lee Dudley made hundreds of birds over the course of his career, very few of his decoys survived. Their popularity among collectors has led to numerous contemporary copies, and re-headed or re-bodied examples.
The Dudley decoy has always been known for its bold, singular form and this carving exemplifies all of the desirable attributes one looks for. To draw from Gene and Linda Kangas’ "Decoys: A North American Survey:" "A visual study of the complete Dudley bird form, whatever the species, reveals an uninterrupted flow from bill tip to tail’s end. The successful manner in which the bill fits into the lower cheeks, the cut of the neck-base, sweeping powerful chest, and smooth, curved body combine into one of the finer sculptural solutions in the decoy world.
Finding Dudley decoys with their original head and bill, as seen on this canvasback, is extremely difficult. The form, execution, rarity, condition, and provenance of this canvasback place it among the finest North Carolina decoys to ever be offered for sale at auction.
Mix of original and working paint with heavy gunning wear and reset head and neck with age lines.
Provenance: William J. Mackey, Jr. Collection
Megargee Collection, acquired from the above in the early 1960s
Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Collection
Literature: Joe French, “Early Decoy Days: Traveling Man,” Decoy Magazine, Lewes, DE, March/April 2005, p. 25, exact decoy illustrated.
William J. Mackey, Jr., “American Bird Decoys.” New York, 1965, pp. 168-170.
Joel Barber, "Wild Fowl Decoys," New York, NY, 1954, pp. 1-5, pl. 1-3, related decoys illustrated.
Dick McIntyre, “The Dudley Decoy,” Decoy Magazine, Burtonsville, MD, March/April 1994, cover story, pp. 8-14.
Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr., "Southern Decoys of Virginia and the Carolinas," Exton, PA, 1983, pp. 215-219.
Gene and Linda Kangas, “Decoys: A North American Survey,” Spanish Fork, UT, 1983, pp. 3-4.
Copley Fine Art Auctions, "The Sporting Sale 2011," Plymouth, MA, July 2011, lot 629, exact decoy illustrated.
Joe Engers, ed., “’Old Decoys’ Compete for Ribbons,” Decoy Magazine, Ocean City, MD, July/August 1988, p. 29, exact decoy illustrated.
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