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Letters to the Editor
May/June 2004

“Join(ing) the party”

I had decided not to write regarding the recent article on the Bowman/Bunn decoys, since this is outside my area of decoy activity. However, the latest salvo of letters in the March/April issue has convinced me to “join the party.” This subject is exciting, and I find the research that has been done and the journalism that has made this information available to the decoy world to be commendable.

It seems that any good cause will generate some controversy, and the more that has been invested (financially and emotionally), the greater the resistance to change. But the effort must be made if we are to learn and move forward. In 1493, no doubt Christopher Columbus felt he was fighting a losing battle, with all the folks who were certain the world was flat. But his sustained effort proved that the long-accepted “fact” was incorrect.

A common experience has been shared by many decoy collectors; most of us who have collected for a while have talked with someone who was certain that their grandfather/uncle/neighbor made the decoy that we were inspecting. Of course, it was actually not from the hand of their near-and-dear relative, but was made by a different source well known in decoy circles. During the last hundred or so years, how many times have these myths of creation stuck, and decoy history has been recorded incorrectly? Probably a lot more than we will ever know!

Keep up the good work.

Bill Dodge
Boone Terre, Missouri

Shinnecock Nation accepts attribution

The Shinnecock Nation Museum agrees with the authenticity of Mr. Jamie Reason’s research regarding the true attribution on the so-called “Bill Bowman” decoys. We believe that the research brought forward by Mr. Reason is substantial and sufficient to warrant the changing of any attribution of “Bill Bowman” decoys to that of “Charles Sumner Bunn, 1865-1952” of the Shinnecock-Montauk Tribes from the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, Southampton, Long Island, New York. This attribution merely confirms what was always known locally, that “Chief” Charles Bunn was a very great decoy carver and professional guide and hunter.

As it is recognized that a “Bowman/Bunn” decoy sold at auction for over $400,000 before correct attribution was known, it is gratifying that Mr. Bunn will now be recognized as one of the greatest decoy carvers who ever lived, and consequently one of the greatest Native American artist/craftsmen of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Shinnecock Nation Museum board of directors is proud to affirm that a native son of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Algonquian of Eastern Long Island, whose identity has been obscured for 50 years, has been rediscovered to the world of decoy enthusiasts and the larger world of Native American art. We thank Mr. Jamie Reason, without whose discoveries this information would have remained hidden forever.

David Martine, Director/Curator
Winonah Warren, President

Southampton, New York

All in favor of controversy

I’m all in favor of controversy. As you noted in your last issue, it has provoked some research on Jesse Birdsall, which cleared up misconceptions about how many there were and whether they made decoys. I hope Artie Birdsall does do a future article on Jesse the decoy maker, and I fervently hope that he cites his sources so everybody with questions can find them themselves. This hobby has plenty of handed down stories. It is past time for more research.

Annoyance at earlier perceived inaccuracies is a common reason for new and improved scholarship. The first article you published on “John” Walton provoked me to do the research, which resulted in my own article on James Walton. That was a good thing. I’m glad the first article came out because I probably wouldn’t have dived into the records otherwise.

If an article that disputes received wisdom makes someone mad, the best reaction is to write one’s own article – with better research – and cite one’s sources. Prove the offender is wrong. This Bowman/Bunn debate is the best thing to come down the pike in years. Who knows what a bunch of pissed off people may dig up? Maybe even Cameron McIntyres’s Hogarthian photo (see letters, March/April 2004) of Bill Chase and Jack Sargent daubing merrily at shorebird decoys, Bill Bowman passed out on the floor and Herrick and Bunn at the windows, blazing away at passing plover.

Tom Bosworth
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


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