10/08/07 — He's the top duck in decoys

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He's the top duck in decoys

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 8, 2007 1:45 PM

Duck decoy carving expert Tommy Rogers of Snow Hill will carry about a dozen of his students' decoys to regional competition this weekend.

Rogers recently trained seven duck carvers with grant money from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was one of only three carvers in North Carolina to receive the grant through the Carving Out Future Mid-Atlantic Decoy Makers project conducted by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md.

The money provided all the wood, tools and supplies for the venture. Rogers figured by the time he adds up all of the allowances and reimbursements, the grant would probably total about $1,300. This was his second year teaching a course.

The seven students were split up into two groups. Four students met with him for a 16-hour weekend session, and the other three students met for another 16 hours on another weekend.

And on Oct. 13, Rogers will enter their works made in the class plus a few more that had already been made into the competition. The Chesapeake Challenge will be held at the Chesapeake Wildfowl Expo, which will be on the grounds of the museum. The ducks will be floated in four tanks and judged as functional working decoys alongside the work of other regional carvers. Each bird has to self-right itself and float in the water.

Last year, Rogers' students did well in the competition. There were more than 200 carvers, and several of the birds made in his class received ribbons.

But he told the students this time their objective was not to win a competition but to learn something and have fun in the process.

He said he enjoys the fellowship and teaching as much as he does the carving and painting.

"I've made a lot of friends over the years through (carving)," he said.

When he found out about the program last year, Rogers had already been informally teaching for about 10 years in his shop in Snow Hill.

He started making decoys 21 years ago after meeting a carver at a craft show in Morehead City.

"I was doing crafts and was looking for something new," he said.

In 1986, he said, everybody was doing wood crafts. Rogers did a lot of 'Welcome' signs. He was burned out, he said, and needed a change.

He is glad he took up duck decoy carving.

"I love it. It's an excellent hobby for retired people who can't get out and do a lot of physical activity. You create something beautiful and look back and see you've done something."

Steve Butler, his only student from Goldsboro, has been carving ducks 25 years or so. But he said he felt he needed help with his painting technique, and there were some things he didn't know.

"Tommy can show you stuff it would probably take years to learn. He can show you techniques really quick. He has helped me a whole lot."

Although the purpose of the program is to create professional carvers, it's hard for Butler to think about selling his decoys.

"After you do it, you kind of don't want to get rid of them. And the house just gets fuller and fuller," he said. "I enjoy it. I really do."