Birds of a Feather

A father and son create realistic decoys for hunters In a sawdust-filled workshop housed in an old barn in Burlington County.

Vincent Giannetto III, left, and his son, David, look over the latest works in progress at their shop in Burlington County.
Courtesy of David F. Giannetto.

The New Jersey tradition of duck-decoy carving is alive and well in the small town of Edgewater Park, a stone’s throw from the Delaware River in Burlington County. There, in a small, sawdust-filled workshop, housed in an old barn built by his father in the 1940s, Vincent Giannetto III and his son David create green-winged teals, wood ducks, and pintails to be used by hunters to attract the real thing.

Vincent is among the last of a dying breed—a self-taught hunter/carver still earning a living on the water. It’s a passion that began as a teenager. “There were farms all around, and we were near the Delaware River,” he says. “I spent a lot of time in the woods. I’m 67 now, and I still get anxious to get up in the morning and go to the river.”

He began carving because he could not afford to buy his own decoys. The distinctive Delaware River style he learned features narrow bodies that offer less resistance in the Delaware’s swift currents; raised, V-shaped wings; and abundant details—including eye grooves, cheek pouches, and back and tail feathers.

“My decoys look as realistic as possible and work as functional decoys,” Giannetto says. The decoys, carved from Jersey white cedar, retail for $300 to $400. Highly collectible, Giannetto’s creations have sold at auctions for $700 to $1,000.

Giannetto has won most major U.S. carving competitions. His decoys have been exhibited in galleries and museums, in Christmas window displays at Rockefeller Center, and at the White House. In 2002, then President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, asked Giannetto to carve an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. His baby ducklings are part of the Smithsonian Institute’s White House Collection. Last year, the New Jersey Council of the Arts designated Giannetto a master carver; David, 42, was named his apprentice.

David, the second of Giannetto’s five children, combines carving with a career as an author, business theorist, and wildlife photographer. His book about his father’s life, The Decoy Artist: America’s Last Hunter-Carver, to be published by Pelican Press in September, will be the basis of an exhibit at the Ocean County Decoy & Gunning Show, September 24 and 25 (and will be on view until February) at the Tuckerton Seaport Museum.
The Giannettos’ full line of decoys and collectible carvings can be seen on their websites, thedecoyartist.com and ducksandsuch.com.

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