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1988 awardee, McMillan (Luce County), duck decoy carver
Born 1932 near Elk Rapids, Forrest "Jim" Wicks grew up along the Grand Traverse Bay, where he was first introduced to duck hunting. He started carving working decoys when he and his hunting friends became tired of the look of the standard decoy, typically rendered with the bird's head pointing straight ahead. According to Jim, "My first decoys were rough, but good enough to be added to the decoys that my father and I used on Grand Traverse Bay back in the 1940s. Since fashioning those first crude works of art, my interest in decoy carving has expanded greatly. I've carved maybe a thousand of them." (1) His love of carving is tireless. Jim says, "I hope to die with the chips in my pocket and the knife in my hand." (2)
In 1967 he sent his working decoy to the Midwest Decoy Contest, sponsored by the Michigan Waterfowl Decoy Association and held annually at Pointe Mouillee near Monroe, Michigan. After years of winning awards for his working decoys at the contest, he ceased competing and switched to creating half-life-size birds for ornamental purposes because "the public likes them." He sells about 50 a year. For many years he served as the registrar for the decoy contest, checking in entries and meeting long-time friends and nationally-known carvers.
Jim's favorite bird to carve is the Ringneck duck with the Lesser Scaup or Bluebill a close second . One of his trademarks is detail carving on the underside of the duck's bill. Not many people even notice it, but Jim feels this detail makes the duck more authentic and realistic. Jim has taught many, many people how to carve, through informal instruction, formal classes, and as a master artist in the Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.
Duck hunting is strictly a hobby for Jim, who does not shoot as often as he used to because as he said, "We always have duck in the freezer and now we get out there more to enjoy the day and the scenery." (3) Also an avid ice fisherman, he demonstrated ice fishing as a participant in the 1987 Festival of American Folklife, where thousands of visitors were introduced to an activity rarely known in the nation's capitol.
(1) Wicks, Jim. "Decoy Delight," Michigan Natural Resources Magazine, 1986 (January-February):36-44
(2) Wicks, Jim. Cited in Alan R. Kamuda, "Retirement duck soup for UP decoy carver," Detroit Free Press, n.d.
(3) Wicks, Forrest. Personal communication with C. Kurt Dewhurst. 1986.
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