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John English
The innovator of the Delaware River decoy

by Allen Linkchorst

That John English was the most influential decoy maker on the Delaware River is without a doubt. Although some collectors may prefer the work of his contemporary to the south, John Blair Sr., English established a legacy with his finely detailed, hollow-carved decoys with their delicate raised wing carving and incised tails, a style that has been copied extensively by carvers of his day through the present.

English decoys, the majority hollow-carved, are made of pine. There are a few solid-bodied decoys in existence and some were made of three pieces of wood. He was a frugal man and a conscientious craftsman who utilized whatever was available. Often he cut out knotholes or defective pieces of wood and repaired the area with a square or rectangular plug. One decoy in a collection today has a piece of wood that was attached to the side to make the body the necessary width.

The bodies of English decoys are round and graceful. The puddle ducks have carved raised primaries, only slightly elevated. The diver decoys are smooth-backed. All his decoys have stylish incised carving on the tails. The pintail drakes have a long, delicate sprigtail and the mallard drakes often had an imbedded wooden curl or the tail feather, another of his innovations.

What is certain about John English is that he was undoubtedly the innovator of a finely sculpted style of decoys that influenced generations to follow. Bob White, a well-known Delaware River carver, collector and historian, refers to English as the "ultimate Delaware River carver," who produced a body of work that, in his day, had no compare. Frugal, gifted and hard working, John English likely considered himself little more than a man of the river. In that way, he was a Delaware River classic.

For the complete story, please see the March/April 2000 issue of Decoy Magazine.

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