Decoy carvers not a bunch of quacks

  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Photos provided George and Cindy Kahl of Kahl’s Decoys handmake antique contemporary style duck decoys. This is their first year at the Flowertown Festival.


George Kahl comes from a long line of duck decoy carvers.

He always knew his uncles from New York were waterfowl hunters and carvers in the 1940s, but he didn’t know the true nature of their talents until visiting there in 2009. The family had saved all of his uncles’ carvings.

“We saw the hundreds of decoys and we were just mesmerized by the whole thing. So we went home and said ‘let’s give this a shot’,” Kahl said.

Since then George and his wife Cindy have been making decoys of their own. They sell them through their business Kahl’s Decoys.

Hunters have been using duck decoys for hundreds of years to attract waterfowl to their hunting ground. Made out of wood and painted to look like ducks, Decoys are hollowed and weighted so they float on the water, similar to a real bird, tricking ducks, mallards and other waterfowl into thinking food is available.

Today the decoys are as popular for hunting as they are for keeping in the home as decoration.

Kahl said antique decoys made in the 1800 and 1900s are considered folk art and can sell for thousands of dollars. He makes contemporary antique decoys, meaning they have the same vintage look as a decoy made in the 1940s or 50s, but without the expensive price tag.

The couple carves and decorates their own decoys in their Swansboro, N.C., home.

Kahl uses only decade-appropriate materials like flathead screws and dowel eyes to make his finishes historically accurate. Special techniques, like firing the carved bird to simulate the look of being used in the water for years and varnishing the finished decoy, accomplishes the antiqued look.

Kahl carves all of the birds himself, using various tools, and his wife Cindy paints and wood burns the birds to decorate them. He said the largest oversized decoys they make are 12 inches, and can take up to six days to complete from start to finish.

Modern designed birds use airbrushing techniques that Kahl said look unbelievably real, but he’s always been more interested in an antiqued look.

“The warmth of the antique is really special,” he said.

The couple said they enjoy working together on projects in their retirement and view their decoys are a hobby, not a business.

“The finished product is really a reward,” Kahl said. “It’s a fun thing … It’s really a reward to have somebody look at a piece and tell us ‘This is really nice!’”

And for George, it’s also about keeping his family’s heritage alive.

“I’m just trying to continue the tradition. Nobody in my family does it anymore.”

This is the first year Kahl’s Decoys will have a booth at the Flowertown Festival.

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