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Ira D. Hudson and Family
Chincoteague Carvers
by Henry H. Stansbury

Reviewed by James L. Trimble

A comprehensive book on Ira Hudson and his family of boat builders and decoy makers has long been overdue. With his new book, "Ira D. Hudson and Family, Chincoteague Carvers," author Henry Stansbury delivers the goods to the decoy community.

Ira Hudson, who made rounded waterfowl lures with gentle flowing lines during the first and second quarters of the 20th century, was Virginia's best known decoy maker. In describing Hudson's decoys, Stansbury relies on a quote from "Southern Decoys of Virginia and the Carolinas" by Henry Fleckestein Jr.: "Ira Hudson was a commercial decoy maker in every sense of the word, yet he was a creative genius turning out many different styles of decoys … look at them closely and it is easy to understand why so many collectors appreciate the outstanding work of Ira Hudson."

Many writers, including Fleckenstein, Mackey, Bull, Starr, Reiger, Kangas and Berkey, have included Hudson in regional chapters of their respective decoy books, but most of that information has centered on his decoys. Now Stansbury provides an opportunity to dig into the human side of the man and his family's life on Chincoteague, as well as enjoy the wide variety of decoys and decorative carvings they produced.

The book is broken into two distinct sections. The first part deals with a historical overview of Hudson's life on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, which includes many period photographs of the Hudson family and Chincoteague Island, and the second section is a full color portfolio of the Hudson family's decoys and decorative carvings.

Hudson left many unanswered questions when he died. There was no biography of his work, no records of any transactions, no chronicle of contribution in the local newspaper and no interview by an interested writer prior to his death in 1949. Even this craftsman's decoys left no paper trail, as each was made individually without benefit of pattern. Lack of source information causes insurmountable challenges for writers, challenges that several Hudson collectors had experienced many years earlier as they assembled data for a book on Hudson that was never written. Stansbury, who has studied Hudson and his family's work for a 15-year-period, was able to gain access to their valuable research as well as access to family members who were documenting the Hudson family.

The author mines gold when family members share insightful nuggets of knowledge about a loving and creative family patriarch who could barely read or write, yet raised a large family under harsh economic conditions in a rural and often isolated environment. Stansbury delivers their individual stories like a well-woven, comfortable piece of fabric. There is the story of the family Creche, composed of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, the Wise Men and all the farm animals, carefully carved and painted by Hudson. Or the story of Hudson making children's toys: jewelry boxes, dollhouses and baby boxes for the girls, and boat models and wooden toys of various descriptions for the boys. In addition to boats and decoys, there are stories of Hudson building or making everything from chicken houses to gunstocks to clothespins. Stansbury enlists the help of a long-time Chincoteague Island schoolteacher's chronology of local history to frame the family's life in context. This effectively opens a window on the initial development of Chincoteague Island at the turn of the last century: the first general store, blacksmith shop, Western Union office, etc., and the development of the seafood wharves and the oyster business.

Some of the shared information included taped interviews from 20 or so years ago with older individuals who had dealt with Hudson, purchasing boats and decoys. These are full of observations of Hudson's personality and descriptions of events that would be impossible to replicate today. There are also interviews with Hudson's adult children, Norman and Delbert, who were both deceased long before the author put pen to paper. These interviews are rounded out by the author's own interviews with some of Hudson's grandchildren. Stansbury, to his credit, does not try to blend the interviews, but let's each stand on its own, allowing the reader to develop a persona image of Hudson the man, in his place of time and circumstance.

In addition to the many black and white photos that support Hudson's life story, there are over 300 large color photographs of Hudson ducks, geese and shorebirds - both decoys and decoratives - including many made by his sons Norman and Delbert. The chapters are organized by species - black duck, bluebill, canvasback, etc. - which give the reader the opportunity to date and compare numerous carving styles and paint patterns, and the ability to distinguish between the father's and sons' decoys. The bluebill chapter alone has over 18 photos of Hudson family decoys.

There is no question that this well-documented book was written by a man with a passion for knowledge and a love of Hudson decoys. Combined with the high quality color photographs and the pleasing design, "Ira D. Hudson and Family, Chincoteague Carvers" is a good bang for the buck and a welcome addition to any decoy collector's library.

Ira D. Hudson and Family, Chincoteague Carvers by Henry H. Stansbury, 160 pages, over 300 color photos, published by Decoy Magazine, Lewes, Delaware, $50 plus S/H.

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