William H. Bowman

 

BOWMAN, WILLIAM H.
(1824–1906),
a wildfowl decoy carver and permanent resident of Maine, is known nonetheless as the most recognized of all Long Island decoy carvers. Bowman’s biographicaldetails are few, but among those established are his annual summer visits to the beaches in the area of Lawrence, Long Island, New York, where he fashioned decoysand gunned shorebirds. Oral histories and Maine documentation suggest that he worked in a sawmill in Bangor, Maine, and/or was a cabinetmaker there. He has beencharacterized as a “friendly, lazy hermit” who enjoyed “lifting the cup” and carving, a “true artist making decoys, rather than just a decoy maker that has an artistic bent.”Based on his extant wildfowl decoys, he flourished in the period from 1890 to 1900, before restrictions were imposed on shorebird hunting. His shorebirds includeruddy turnstones, black-breasted plovers, long-billed curlews, nestled lesser yellowlegs, Hudsonian curlews, and Dowitchers. Superior body shaping and plumage painting are Bowman’s more appreciated decoy characteristics. Very few of his shorebird decoys show vibrant colors; rather, he daubed blacks and whites over white-to-tan bodies to indicate plumage patterns. To obtain a more realistic appearance, he used imported German glass for the eyes in his decoys. Another salientBowman signature is Dow itcher wings, extended from the body, and separate both from each other and from the tail.Bowman’s duck and goose decoys are carved with rounded chests, arched backs, low-set tails, and flattened bottoms. The necks of his ducks are inletted or inserted, which is typical of Maine decoys. Bowman’s carvings also often incorporated both Maine and Long Island characteristics. For example, most Maine decoyslacked carving and painting details, while his Long Island shorebirds were oversized with more complex relief carving. Decoy historian Robert Shaw notes thatBowman “captured his subject’s faces and bodies more precisely than any other shorebird carver.”
See also
Decoys, Wildfowl
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Mackey, William J.Jr. “Bill Bowman’s Decoys.”
Decoy Collectors Guide,
vol. 4 (1966–1967): 18–22.Bishop, Robert Charles.
American Folk Art: Expressions of a New Spirit.
New York, 1983.Brill, Mama K.
Wood Sculpture of New York State.
New York, 1975.Colio, Quintana.
American Decoys: Ducks, Eiders, Scoters, Geese, Brant, Swans…and Other Unusual Decoys from 1865–1928.
Ephrata, Pa., 1972.Headley, Somers G., and John M.Levinson.
Shorebirds: The Birds, the Hunters, the Decoys.
Centreville, Md., 1991.Kangas, Gene, and Linda Kangas.
Decoys: A North American Survey.
Spanish Fork, Utah, 1983.Kehoe, William David S.
Decoys at the Shelburne Museum.
Shelburne, Vt., 1961