Updated: Jun 5, 2020
I can no better understand why someone would collect baseball cards or toy tractors as they can understand my reason for collecting duck decoys. However, collectors don’t care what non-collectors think about the oddity of having museum-like displays on a bookshelf, or a wall shelf or scattered throughout an entire house. Collectors go to great lengths to study, observe, gather, conserve and display their treasures. For us, it’s the art of the decoy. Taking time to look at a well arranged decoy collection while sitting in a favorite chair or touring different rooms, whether alone or with a fellow collector, is psychological and demonstrative. It gives us a historical perspective on decoy makers and waterfowl hunting; sport and hardship; art and friendship. Museums can’t evoke this kind of personal experience because collecting is a private passion; it’s about personally finding, handling, acquiring and arranging. It's making art from art.
The mindset of building a private collection is best described by A.W. Pollard in his famous essay in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911):
“In the modern private collection, the need for a central idea must be fully recognized. Neither the collector nor the curator can be content to keep a mere curiosity shop. It is the collector’s business to illustrate his central idea by his choice of examples, by the care with which he describes them and the skill with which they are arranged.”
Yes, that says it perfectly well for most of us. I enjoy seeing decoys and how they're arranged in a collection to illustrate the collectors "central idea".
(Above) Collection of the author in 2018. Modeled (in part) after Joel Barber's display and wooden decoy stands as seen in Wild Fowl Decoys.
(Left) The private collection (in part) of Kyle Mrosko, age 18, arranged in an antique haberdashery case. The central idea is the artistic beauty of contemporary decoys; those with superb form, paint and patina. This young man has an astonishing eye for decoys. Kyle has regular dialogue with the best carvers in the country. They all want to make something special for Kyle's collection. Rock solid proof that the future of decoy collecting is bright, sharply focused on a central idea; and very, very capable.
(Below) The working desk of Travis Bryant, age 27, is a clear sign that the next generation of decoy collectors are well studied and well rooted. His arrangement looks like the private study of a chief curator where copious research is conducted. Again, a central idea that is not modeled after prior generations between Bill Mackey and Joe French of having the largest quantity of decoys; nor that of Dr. McCleery (and most collectors today) of having the highest quality decoys made by early makers. Instead, Travis collects old working decoys that have history and a story behind them (obviously, he likes the Stevens Story); and he collects matching ephemera. Travis actually shoots over his contemporary decoys before placing them on the adjacent shelf to his battle veterans.