Duck Decoy

Image of duck decoy carved by Robert Elliston, ca. 1900.
Detail image of duck decoy carved by Robert Elliston, ca. 1900.
Art imitates life

This decoy of a mallard hen was carved by Robert Elliston (1847-1925), one of the earliest commercial decoy makers and widely considered to be the father of the Illinois River decoy carving tradition. In 1882, Elliston began creating lightweight, realistic decoys for the sportsman who visited the Undercliff Hotel in Putnam County, a popular hunting spot along the Illinois River flyway. His wife, Catherine, painted the ducks with realistic patterns that were soon copied by other painters.

Between 1860 and 1940, duck hunting flourished along the Illinois River. Expanding transportation networks made it easier for sport hunters to travel to the Illinois River and for market hunters to transport their game to urban areas. The growing need for lures to draw wild ducks resulted in a tradition of expertly crafted and painted decoys.

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