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The Gilley-Wilson Eider, Augustus "Gus" Aaron Wilson (1864-1950)

The Gilley-Wilson Eider, Augustus "Gus" Aaron Wilson (1864-1950)

Item Description:

The Gilley-Wilson Eider
Augustus "Gus" Aaron Wilson (1864-1950)
South Portland, ME, c. 1900
17 1/2 in. long

Epitomizing the decoy as art, this boldly fashioned eider is one of the finest traditional Maine carvings to ever be offered at public auction. Eider decoys have always held a special place amongst carvers and collectors of decoys and folk art with their beautiful contrasting plumage and bold forms lending themselves to artistic designs and interpretations. From the earliest carvers of wooden decoys centuries ago to present-day carvers, makers have long been captivated by these sea ducks.

Executed in a breast-preening posture, Wilson’s attention to anatomy is superb, capturing the essence of the eider cleanly and efficiently. It features an exceptionally rendered head with raised upper bill carving and the maker’s signature incised eyes. The inset head is fastened to a two-piece body. The cocked-back head curves fluidly into its pinched breast. The body expands into the broad wings and finishes with an uplifted tail.

One of very few Wilson decoys with impeccable provenance, the decoy was sourced by fellow Maine bird carver Wendell Gilley (1904-1983) directly from Wilson’s nephew. This marks the first time that this decoy has been offered for sale since O’Brien acquired it in 1975, and the first time it has ever been offered at public auction.

Taken with the bird the very first time he laid eyes on it, Gilley wrote to O’Brien on September 10, 1975, and told him that this eider was the “best decoy” he had ever seen. A gifted maker with a keen eye, Gilley would eventually see a museum erected honoring his carving in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

This grand eider measures over seventeen inches in length, nine inches in width, and eight and one-quarter inches in height. The two-piece construction features a prodigious four and one-half inch by six and one-half inch inletted head. An old fence staple on the bottom was used to attach the decoy to the anchor cord.

Though Wilson is widely celebrated for his vast decoy output, numbering well into the hundreds, this Monhegan style elder with its, exceptional lines, clean surface, and provenance is perhaps the best to ever come to light.
In excellent original paint with light even gunning wear, an age line in the head with original stabilizing nail, an age line and seam lines in body, and very minimal touch-up to small tail chips.

Provenance: Agustus "Gus" Aaron Wilson, acquired by the makers nephew
Donal C. O'Brien, Jr. Collection, acquired from the above through Wendell Gilley, 1975

Literature: Jackson Parker, "O'Brien Classic Decoys on Display," Maine Antiques Digest, November 1981, p. 32-B, exact decoy illustrated.
Robert H. Boyle, “The Art of Deception,” Audubon Magazine, May/June 2002, p. 47, no. 5, exact decoy illustrated.
Gene Kangas, “Gus Wilson, Folk Artist,” Decoy Magazine, Lewes, DE, November/December 1994, pp. 8-13.
James Reginato, “Folk Art’s Old Guard,” Town & Country, January 1990, p. 161, exact decoy on mantel (center).

Exhibited: New York, New York, “The Art of the American Decoy: Folk Sculpture from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Donal C. O’Brien Jr.,” Museum of American Folk Art, September 3–November 8, 1981.


Condition report requests can be made via email or by telephone ( or 617.536.0030). Any condition statement given is a courtesy to customers, Copley will not be held responsible for any errors or omissions. The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition.

$ 155000.00 ( Sold Price )


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Listed price: $200,000.00

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The Gilley-Wilson Eider, Augustus "Gus" Aaron Wilson (1864-1950)

Listed price: $200,000.00

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