A shared hobby
"Everyone has a different idea of what a fish should look like," explained Judy Grove of Brandon. For years, she and her husband, Dewey, have made a hobby out of creating their versions of fish, mermaids, flying pigs, birds, skunks, weasels, beavers, owls and more.
"I make the canvas and she paints it," said Dewey of his wife of 39 years.
The duo has created literally thousands of workable dark house spearing decoys and some just for display.
The Groves even received "Carver of the Year" honors at the Rudy Zwieg Decoy Show in Alexandria in 2011.
Judy grew up in Alexandria and is a graduate of the commercial art program at Alexandria Technical College.
"Sometimes a person just has to create something," she said and admitted that when it comes to art, "I have always had my fingers in it."
At one point, someone asked her to paint some spearing decoys. Although painting decoys for others was something she did sporadically, Judy estimates that over the past 25 years she has painted 75,000 to 100,000 of them.
Much like how fish from different lakes vary in color, every artist paints from a different pallet. Judy has developed her own color scheme for the wooden fish.
As she described her technique, she said, "I don't think you can do it wrong. Everyone has a different way of doing it."
The artist uses acrylic enamel paint and a variety of brush strokes and techniques, and applies a clear coat to the finished product.
She can paint a decoy in 15 minutes. However, with drying time and finishing touches, the entire process of carving and painting one can take up to a week to complete.
When Dewey retired from Gardonville Telephone in Brandon in 2004, he wondered what he would do with his time. Judy encouraged him to make fish decoys.
Since having the time to take up the hobby of carving, he believes he has made between 15,000 and 20,000 pieces.
Dewey doesn't spear or even have a fish house anymore.
"I'd rather go out in the shop and goof around. I like the woodworking," he said.
His shop has a band saw, belt sander and other tools. The wood is bought from sawmills.
The carver is allergic to trees, so he prefers to work with white pine - its dust isn't as severe as with other lumber.
The fish are made in varying thicknesses. Dewey cuts the creations out with a band saw and shapes them with a belt sander. He also uses a vibrating sander, but in the end he sands the wood by hand.
Occasionally, he uses a knife to cut out details like the mouth and gills, while other times it's easier for Judy to make those details come alive in the painting process.
The decoys made for fishing are designed with tin fins and tails formed from flattened coffee cans. The decorative ones are made with wooden tails.
All the decoys the couple makes can be used for fishing, therefore all are weighted with lead. Dewey melts lead in a lead pot and pours it in carved holes. This allows the decoys to sink in the water.
Depending on the number of pieces needed for a show, Dewey will carve up to a dozen at a time. This enables Judy to paint them in succession.
The couple only exhibits their work at one to two decoy shows each year and have done shows in Alexandria, Perham and Park Rapids.
"It's not a business. It's for fun - a hobby," Dewey explained. "We meet a lot of nice people. We have friends all over the state because of this."
The couple favors keeping prices affordable. "If you walk by and see one you like for $15, you will probably buy it,"_Dewey explained. "If it is $50, you might not."
Bullheads are one of their best sellers. "I think it's because everyone loves to hate them," Dewey said, and Judy agreed.
Red and white spearing decoys are also hot items. For some reason in Minnesota if it isn't red and white, it isn't any good, Dewey said. Judy speculated in the old days, there may have been a lot of red and white paint around from houses and barns.
The Groves hope more young people become interested in this hobby.
"There is not a lot who do it anymore," Judy said. "For the most part it's just us old folks."
DECOY SHOW TO BE HELD
The 8th annual Rudy Zwieg Decoy Show will be held Saturday, March 3 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria.
The event features spearing decoys, woodworking, outdoor art, sporting collectibles, chainsaw art and more.
There will be a National Fish Decoy Association competition, as well as a raffle for diamond earrings, Strikemaster ice auger, trolling motor, meat packages, portable ice house and more.
The event is presented by the Mid-State Chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. There is no admission fee.
For information, contact Paul Lundeen at (218) 948-2888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.