Folk Art

Fabulous Carved-Wood Folk Art Fishing Decoy of a Mermaid
  • The four fish decoys I’m listing today attracted me because they are so folky. I haven’t owned fish decoys before, so I did a little research to find out what I have. You know me—I have to research everything!

    A fish decoy is a type of lure but it is traditionally carved to look like an animal that is often fish food. While some fish decoys are carved in the image of a smaller fish, they quite often imitate frogs, insects, rodents, turtles, baby ducks or just about any animal that might end up floating at the top of the water for the predator fish to grab. Fish decoys are traditionally used for ice fishing here the fisherman is luring a fish to the surface to be speared. Ice spear fishing was first practiced by Native Americans, especially the Inuit, who would cover themselves and the holes in the house with a large animal skins. The pelt provided some heat retention but the most important aspect was to block out light so the fisherman could see into the hole and water. The fish were lured close enough to the top of the water that the fisherman could identify the type of fish and its size.

    Most common forms of fish decoys are weighted and attached to a line. The line is often attached to the roof of the shanty, some other stationary object, or a jigging stick. The fisherman will then “swim” or "dangle" the decoy to attract a fish in close enough to spear. The fish decoys I am listing are all working decoys with weights, tin wings to help the decoy stay upright as it sits at the water’s surface. An iron hook or eyelet is screwed into the top of the decoy to allow the line to be attached.

    I wonder what fish the maker was trying to catch with a mermaid! My research shows that in the 1940s some lure-making companies produced plastic mermaid lures as novelties. This mermaid is beautifully carved from wood with flowing long hair; a rather abstract face; a slight curve to her tail fin; nail heads as nipples; and tin wings instead of arms. She was made as a working decoy and the wear to her original taupe-colored paint indicates that she was, indeed, used. In excellent condition. Pure folk art! 10" long. Circa 1st half of 20th century.

    #6680     $1725