Bob Metzger makes bird decoys. The decoys are mostly models of ducks, but also of swans, geese, sandpipers, puffins and other birds. He carves most of these decoys from bass wood, but he also makes interesting specimens from canvas stretched over wood and wire.
Metzger learned the art of making canvas decoys from a man in North Carolina nearly two decades ago. The slim, energetic man in his mid-80s believes he’s the only canvas decoy maker in Lancaster County.
Canvas decoys have been used for more than a century along the coast in North Carolina and Virginia. The originators of the form used canvas stretched over a wood-and-wire base because good wood for carving was in short supply. Hunters demanded large numbers of decoys to lure flocks of migratory waterfowl into their gun sights.
Working in his East Petersburg home, Metzger uses a wood base and a backboard to give the decoy a profile. Then he adds galvanized wire hoops to give the body a round shape. Finally, he stretches canvas over the wire and tacks it into place on the base board. He fashions the head and neck separately from wood. Then he paints everything.
Metzger showed a selection of his canvas and all-wood decoys at last week’s meeting of the Lancaster Canoe Club. His daughter, Deb Metzger, is a member of the club.
The canvas birds he exhibited — an elegant white swan, a handsome goose and a canvas-backed canvasback duck — stood out from the wood decoys because they were the largest of the specimens and because the canvas, stretched tight, shows that wires hold it in place.
Metzger took his canvas creations to a water recreation business along the Susquehanna River some time ago. The decoys received a lot of attention. “No one had ever seen a canvas duck,” he said.
Metzger spends many hours making both canvas and wood ducks. He estimated that a male and female merganser each took him 14 hours to carve and paint. He once made a loon in 40 hours.
He fashions most of his decoys with layers of wood screwed together and then carved with the aid of a rasp, chisel, spoke-shave, knife and wood-burning tools. Sometimes he carves the ducks from a single piece of wood and then adds a hand-carved head and neck.
“There’s only one thing hard to carve on a duck,” he explained. “That’s making one side look like the other side.”
The fine work of creating lifelike feathers and painting takes much of his time.
All of his ducks are weighted with lead, and all float. They could be used as actual decoys, although that would be unusual. His carvings are collectors’ items. Most duck hunters today use plastic decoys because they get beat up on the water.
Metzger himself has not hunted ducks since he was a boy. He carves decoys because he enjoys the work and to earn a little money in retirement. When he gets tired of creating a specimen, he takes a nap.
In the March 13 column, the Scribbler idly wondered why “Puddingtown” (aka Bethania) in Salisbury Township carried that name.
It was actually “Puddin’ town,” notes Leona Baker, of the Historical Society of Salisbury Township. It got its name from the amount of cornmeal mush the proprietor of a nearby hotel served miners from the Gap Nickel Mines.
Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Wednesday. He welcomes comments and contributions at firstname.lastname@example.org.