Earlier today I posted a brief piece about Herman R. Trinosky’s pintail decoys. In a rather extensive web search I’ve only found photos of two, perhaps three, pieces.
(Note: I just found two more labelled Kankakee, IL here without attribution to Trinosky.)
I am smitten with their form.
Carving artists, especially decoy carvers, have to strike a balance between two, often competing ideals. The decoy must be realistic enough to draw ducks down into firing range and they must express the aesthetic of the artist.
When I carve a bird there are specific stylistic tools that I use to portray my birds. This is true of all artists (in all disciplines) and what makes an artist’s work recognizable. While these stylistic elements are important they must not interfere with the essence of the bird — that which makes a robin a robin or a tundra swan a tundra swan.
To discuss the aesthetics of Herman R. Trinosky’s pintail decoys we first must look at the real bird. In the end the decoy must look like a pintail to a pintail.
I found this photo of a pintail hen on flyways.us, a waterfowl management website. I chose it because the pose was similar to the pose of Trinosky’s decoy. Another great photo (of perhaps the same bird) is available here. Though I cannot copy this photo here it’s worth a visit. The website allows you to enlarge the image and really get a sense of the paint texture.
I”ve no experience shooting over decoys. I don’t know, from first hand experience, what makes a good decoy. I have read a few books and I speak, just a bit, from that limited knowledge. (If you have shot over decoys and/or have an understanding of decoys and their traditions I would love to exchange a few emails.)
My first impression is that Trinosky’s pintail has an amazingly elegant grace. Three lines define the entire profile of the bird and every line is nearly perfect. The curve from the water to the tail — the curve from the tail across the back, up the neck, and down the head and bill — another curve from the bill tip, under the chin (with just a hint of a break) around the breast and to the water — all connect and work in perfect harmony.
I am also struck by the simplicity of the piece. I see no eye. If there is one it is a simple painted tack. There is no fancy featherwork or bright colors. The breast speckles and side dots are represented by the simplest of brushstrokes. The wet-on-wet transition from back to side to breast is again simple. The reddish browns and tans are understated and there is just a touch of color on the scapulars. The piece is just beautiful!
It doesn’t look like a pintail hen. To be fair — It doesn’t match my sense of what a pintail hen should look like. I don’t mean to take anything away from the piece. It’s form, alone, makes it a masterpiece.
A pintail hen has a very round head. A pintail hen hasn’t a reddish brown back and tan breast with spot. A pintai lhen does not have a brightly colored scapular.
It doesn’t matter, If this is how Trinosky saw these birds, I’m glad because they are beautiful!
Now onto the little know territory of hunting with these decoys. There are a few elements of decoys that bring ducks in close — color, movement and shadow.
We’ve discussed color. The high heads on these decoys would raise their center of gravity quite a bit. This would increase movement — think standing up in a canoe. Trinosky utilized a deep keel system to keep these birds upright (I’ve not seen these systems or diagrams of these systems, so I cannot draw m uch of a conclusion.) In reading about setting and anchoring decoys I know that great pains are often taken so that the birds don’t simply bob in the water, but make life-like movements.
Shadow seems to be a very important element in attracting ducks. Remember ducks are coming in high and above. That means that their perspective is much different than ours. While we focus and fuss over profile (Like I did, above) the duck is looking down. In low angle autumn light the shadows of these birds on the water will be larger than the birds. this is why flatties, profile decoys, work so well. They may not look like the bird from above, but they will cast a large duck shaped shadow just like the real live one. Again this is speculation based on a little book learning.
As noted above I found these here labelled Kankakee, IL, Pintail Drake and Hen.
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