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.