The Fish Decoys of Don Preston
In the deepest part of winter, when most inland waters were covered with thick ice, the spear fisherman would lower a fish decoy through a hole in the ice. Soon, a large, powerful fish would be attracted by the fish decoys, then the fisherman would slowly bring the decoy back to the surface as the fish followed close behind. Once in range, the attentive angler would spear the duped fish.
Don Preston is a carver of fish decoys - third generation in his family practicing this functioning art form. Only recently have fish decoys come to be recognized and appreciated as fine examples of North American folk sculpture. Generally carved from whit pine with only a jackknife, they have body cavities that are carved out and then filled with lead for "sinkability". Decoys are sought by collectors, not for their fish-catching abilities, but for their artistic value.
Preston's fascination with fish decoys can be traced to ice-fishing excursions with his father to Lake Simcoe more than 50 years ago. He has always been intrigued by the craft, and began carving decoys about 27 years ago. His creations adorn the mantles of collectors from Canada, The U.S., Japan, France and event the North Pole.
Preston's vivid kinetic coloration of his fish, stippled and lined with bright primary colours, has an instant and powerful appeal. His work is the product of a disciplined artist gifted with a sensitive eye for natural form. His creations are distinguished not only by their realism, but by the abstract suggestions of fish. "Even if the people who own my fish decoys are not creators, in a sense they are because they have chosen a certain kind of fish decoys which has a variety of forms and textures that is attractive to them", Preston says.
Largely self-taught, Preston creates his fish decoys at his cottage on Christian Island in Georgian Bay, working with just a few hand tools, including chisel, file and penknife.
Preston has won many first and second place ribbons in the folk art categories at Livonia, Michigan. His fish decoys were featured on the cover of the Fall 1997 Lee Valley Tool ltd." catalogue, and have been displayed at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont.
by Don Preston
You can contact Don at:
Sharon, Ontario, Canada L0G 1V0