Duck Decoy Art in South Jersey

J. P. Hand has been carving ducks from Jersey white cedar for about 40 years.  His family has lived in Cape May County since the 1700s.  His step-grandfather, Ephraim Hildreth, was also a decoy carver – today, his rare shorebird decoys go for thousands of dollars on the antiques market.

Hand learned his craft from two masters – Hurley Conklin, and Harry Shourds, a third-generation decoy carver and NEA National Heritage Fellow.  In that tradition, he’s taken on an apprentice – Dave Billig. Billig won a Folk Arts Apprenticeship grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts to study under Hand.  Both are lifelong hunters with a passion for using their own hand-hewn decoys. We visited J. P.’s restored, colonial-era farm during one of their sessions to get a firsthand look at a centuries-old craft that originated in the United States, and, some might say, was perfected in New Jersey.

Produced by Christopher Benincasa for State of the Arts, 2013.

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