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Colorful decoys appeal to collectors of all ages

Robert Dale Tufts III sleeps while dad Bobby Tufts shows him a decoy. At four weeks old, he was too young to appreciate its magic. (Photos by Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 3
Ken Lymburner of Osage poses behind his carvings of two ivory billed woodpeckers. The birds were thought to be extinct until 2002 when they were discovered in an Arkansas swamp. He made the carvings to commemorate their discovery. Lymburner has won numerous awards for his carvings, all from basswood.2 / 3
Lloyd Radi of Crookston visits with a fellow carver at his table of decoys last Saturday at the American Legion Club in Park Rapids. Radi sold a variety of unusual carvings. "Business has been good," he said.3 / 3

In tough economic times, you'd think discretionary items might experience a downturn in sales.

With respect to decoys, you'd be wrong.

Last weekend collectors' decoys and working models were on colorful display at the American Legion. The Park Rapids Chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse & Angling Association held its annual Decoy Carving Show.

"When it comes to hunting and fishing, people will cut down on other things," said carver Dennis Bertram of Greenwald.

"Pretty much anything I make I sell," he added. The 30-year veteran of carving circles was selling spearing decoys that ranged in price from $5 to over $100. "Last weekend I did a show in Perham - best one I've ever been to."

That's probably because a collector - or fisher - is born every day.

Take Robert Dale Tufts III, for example. His name is longer than his tiny body. At four weeks old, he gripped his first decoy, like a rattle. He's still too young to chew on it. Give him time. Baby Robert was at the show with his dad, Bobby Tufts.

"In a couple years I hope he'll be collecting," Bobby said. "I mostly just spear."

Baby Robert mostly just slept.

Judy Grove, who was displaying decoys with her husband, found the event sales slow. "We don't go into these with high expectations," she said.

She said each show and its customers is unique. "It's fun to see all the variety, the ideas and the results," she said. "One time sunfish will be really hot, then something else is. When you think you have it all figured out it changes."

One of the premier carvers, Ken Lymburner of Osage, was unconcerned about business or lack of it.

"I sold a little trout for $200 already," he said. "I feel if I don't sell 'em the kids can fight over 'em."

Lymburner has won numerous "best of show" awards and has been making decoys since he was a kid, perfecting his techniques along the way. He's excited that a taxidermist is going to teach him how to airbrush his decoys, which include waterfowl, woodpeckers and spearing models.

That same taxidermist mistook some of Lymburner's decoys for actual mounted specimens.

"These are novelty items," Jerome Fuglseth said of his colorful display. "A lot of times that's what I sell 'em for - Christmas."

Fuglseth was selling moderately priced, smaller decoys.

"The economy has a lot to do with it," he said. "I know myself I hold back a little bit."

Eileen Johnston was hawking her husband's decoys while Marvin stretched his legs.

"This is a must-have for a serious spearer," she said to a prospective customer.

Marvin and his daughter, Cheryl Scharnott, of Deer River, just started making and selling two varieties of decoys, a shiner minnow and a traditional red-and-white decoy. Their models are poured resin, not carved basswood.

"I'm sure there are luxury type items but so far we've done really well," he said.

Frank Pronek's 6-inch decoys attracted sports buffs - they had Vikings' and Packers' logos painted on them. He said sales of each depend on geography, but there are plenty of fans of each team in enemy territory.

"The crowd is down a little bit," said Dean Hanisch, an officer in the Darkhouse & Angling Association.

"I think it's harder to sell the collectors' decoys than the workman's decoys. Myself, I wouldn't throw a $100 decoy down an ice hole where a big old northern would grab it."

The decoy show is the association's annual fundraiser. Hanisch said all proceeds go back into the community, especially to kids fishing programs.

"That's what we're after," he said. "We want to get 'em out of the house and away from the TV set and get 'em fishing."