Joel Barber


an authority on wildfowl decoys, is referred to as the “father of decoy collecting” and is credited with giving more to the emerging awareness of decoys than any other American. Born in Brewerton, New York, he grew up in Syracuse and graduated with a degree in architecture from Cornell University in Ithaca. Subsequently, hereceived a Beaux Arts Scholarship, which took him to Paris and Rome for further study. For much of his professional life, he lived and practiced architecture in NewYork City before moving to Wilton, Connecticut. He began collecting decoys as early as 1918 and helped to organize the first known decoy show, held in Bellport onLong Island, New York, in 1923, and sponsored by the local Anti-Duskers’ Society. (“Dusking” is the discredited practice of shooting birds as they come to feed after dark.)In addition, Barber is the author of
Wild Fowl Decoys,
first published in 1934. The book provides a comprehensive description of the origins and use of wildfowldecoys, and is the basis for subsequent research on the subject. Barber called waterfowl decoys “floating sculpture,” and recognized them as the only waterborneforms of carving originally made for utilitarian rather than decorative purposes. In the opening chapter of
he outlines his inspiration:The origin and development of decoys has remained a persistent obscurity. No separate treatise on the subject has ever appeared, likewise no pictorial records of early examples. With these facts before me, I have collected old decoys and painted portraits of typical examples…. No one has ever bothered about them as I have, perhaps no one ever thought about it. But it is my wish that the decoy ducks of American duck shooting have a pedigree of their own. For this reason I have become acollector and historian.Barber is also the author of
Long Shore,
published in 1939, a compendium of short stories and verse describing places he visited and fished during his love affair with the outdoors, especially Monhegan Island, Maine. Barber gradually built a comprehensive collection of wildfowl decoys. In 1952 Electra Have-meyer Webb purchased four hundred historic decoys from Barber’s collection for Vermont’s Shelburne Museum. Her acquisition included as well dozens of decoys that Barber carved himself, and upwards of three hundred watercolors and drawings of historic decoys by Barber, many of which were used as illustrations in
Wild Fowl Decoys.
At the time of Barber’s death, in 1952, he left unfinished a planned book,
Decoys of North America.

See also
Decoys, Wildfowl; Shelburne Museum;

Electra Havemeyer Webb
Barber, Joe.
Wild Fowl Decoys.
New York, 1954. ——.
Long Shore.
New York, 1995.Ernest, Adele.
Folk Art in America: A Personal View.
Exton, Pa., 1984. ——.
The Art of the Decoy.
New York, 1965.Joyce, Henry, and Sloane Stephens.
American Folk Art at the Shelburne Museum.
Shelburne, Vt, 2001.Liu, Allan J., ed.
American Sporting Collector’s Handbook.
New York, 1976.Mackey, William F.Jr.
American Bird Decoys.
New York, 1965