"Henry" is Henry Singer who lived nearby on a farm. I got to know him because he raised a wide variety of ducks, swan and geese, and other exotic birds on his farm along with cows, goats, sheep, mules and hogs. Henry was—he passed on maybe seven to nine years ago—considered one of the real characters in these parts. On my visits, I would take my sketchbook to draw his birds. He enjoyed it that I liked his birds. It wasn't too long before I discovered Henry was more interesting than his birds. His wife had left him long ago before I knew him when, as Henry told it, she said to him, "Its the birds or me?" You guessed it; Henry chose the birds.
Henry was definitely all about his animals, but in a disarmingly charming and innocent way. He knew he was totally unfit for human co-habitation, but enjoyed those who would visit if they would not be critical of the way he lived. Each animal having a name is not so unusual on a farm, but considering them full-fledged members of his family, as if they were human, was unique. He was especially fond of a goat named "Nanny". They were inseparable. Henry drove Nanny around with him in his beaten up rust bucket truck as others drive their dogs. Interestingly, Henry did not have a dog. Nanny had the run of the farm but, as far as I could tell, had one restriction. She was not allowed to sit on his antique heirloom sofa. I asked him about the sofa, since it was the only thing in the house he attempted to protect. He said it was a family heirloom from his parent’s home.
Once I was visiting and he invited me into the kitchen. It was summer so he had taken the door off so his animals could come in without having to knock. I walked in and the goat Nanny was sitting comfortably on his couch. Henry was always excited when I came. Some how I being an artist made me a special guest in his eyes. Seating me at the kitchen table, he offered coffee. "Sure," I replied, without knowing the implications.
Henry sets about looking for a clean pot to boil water. Not finding one quite clean enough, he looked around in his tool box at the foot of the table and eventually found a piece of sandpaper and began sanding the inside of the pot. Next, he handed me a cup. It looked like it had never been washed. Unsuccessful in hiding my dismay, he quickly reached back in the toolbox until he found a suitably clean piece of 80 grit sandpaper. Handing it to me, he suggested with his eyes I use it to clean the cup. In view of the hardened coffee rings, it seemed like an appropriate solution. While I sanded the cup, he dumped out the coffee in a pan, added water and soon had the mixture bubbling happily. It was then he milked Nanny the goat and served the warm milk with the coffee. It was delicious!
The idea for "Henry Overboard" came when he reminisced about his youth growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, something we shared in common. He told me about an incident he had had while courting a girl. He was 18 and she was 17. He had taken her sailing in his skiff one Sunday when the skiff began leaking. Having forgotten to bring a scoop it soon became apparent the boat was going to sink. He knew the waters well, so he steered to where the water was shallow over a sandbar. He jumped in the water to lighten the boat in an attempt to keep the lady dry. She sat on the steer while the boat finished sinking up to the level depicted in the piece. With his feet barely touching bottom, he was able to walk the boat to shore without having the lady to swim. As he walked along in dead silence, he'd look back once in a while and saw that attempting a conversation with the woman would not be a good idea.
I got thinking about the story and asked him if he would sit for me so I could sculpt him around the sinking boat story. Henry thought that a great idea. I have always wanted to do the companion piece to Henry Overboard with the lady sitting in the stern.
I gave him the first edition of the sculpture. When Henry died his only relative, a lady cousin, called to say Henry had bequeathed the sculpture I had given him to the Carroll County Maryland historical society museum. The heir of his estate said she would only do this if I would do another edition of the piece so that she could give that piece to the museum and keep could keep the original, to which I agreed.
So that is the story of "Henry Overboard". Peace be unto that dear old man.
At the age of 13 my parents let me hunt by myself and that Christmas I got a 410 gauge bolt-action Mossberg shotgun. In Crisfield, Maryland, where I grew up, duck hunting was the big sport—beginning in the fall and extending into the winter. To hunt for ducks you have two choices: either “walk the marsh” and hope to “jump up” a duck, or put out a string of decoys and wait for the ducks to find you. Walking the marsh is tiring and dangerous. There are countless “potholes”, guts, ditches, and rivers everywhere, mud to sink in and water to fall in.
Don Briddell and Lem Ward in 1976.
Hunting over decoys is by far the more gentlemanly way to do things, but you need a boat and motor to get to the best hunting areas. When you get there, you have to have a rig of decoys. And that is where the story begins for me. I had the boat and motor, but no decoys. Decoys were hand made by the watermen in their spare time. At the time I was growing up, there were two full-time decoy makers, and three part-timers. One old fellow named Lloyd, bought, sold and traded decoys as well as guns.
I took an old French to Lloyd in hopes he would make a trade for decoys. I had found the flintlock musket in my Vermont grandmother’s attic and she had given it to me. It was a very old musket. My uncle said he had used it to hunt bear as a boy in the 1920s. The barrel was paper thin at the muzzle and was probably too dangerous to shoot. Lloyd, however, was pleased to have it. So I got a collection of a dozen old beat-up cedar decoys made by the old timers in Crisfield. Years later those decoys would be worth a dozen new shotguns each, had I had enough foresight to see that they were collectable Americana works of folk art. But as the story usually goes, I saw them only as useful if floating in front of a duck blind.
In my school class was a boy named Tommy Linton whose grandfather was Lem Ward. Lem and his brother Steve were nationally known decoy carvers. Famous as the fathers of decoy carving, they were nonetheless humble men who still kept barbershops. Lem’s wife, right up to the day she died, did not believe that the “boys” could keep food on the table by making decoys. She was probably right about everything else, but on this particular issue she got it wrong. When they finally quit hair cutting, they could not keep up with the decoy orders. I recall names and addresses written on scraps of paper nailed to the wall with a long list of species the customer wanted to have made. These orders on their “do list” were often years old, waiting often in vain, to be made.
Before they stopped barbering, I got my hair cut from them. It was always a thrill to go to their barbershop. When they had no customer, they’d sit in the barber’s chair themselves and carve decoys. Their shop was an intoxicating mix of turpentine, Jerkin’s Hair Oil, and incense cedar wood smells. To this day, 50 years later, I can still recall that wonderful smell.
Since, I knew the Wards informally as barbers, I asked my classmate Tommy, if I could come to the Ward’s workshop. Entering for the first time left indelible memories. The shop was divided into two parts, the bandsaw room and the workroom. The workroom was divided into a carving and a painting section. Shelves ringed the walls with decoys and decorative carvings, all in one stage of completion or another. Lem did the painting and carved the decoratives, while Steve did the decoy carving, roughing them out with a sharp hatchet. He made on average a dozen decoys a day and had done so since 1920. The day I visited the shop with an old decoy I had gotten from Lloyd was in the late summer of 1957, and he was still going strong. I was a very impressed thirteen year-old.
Explaining I wanted them to tell how to fix up my “stool” of decoys, with no reservation, they agree to help me. Though I did not know it at the time, my apprenticeship had begun.
In 1975, to celebrate the upcoming bicentennial of the United States Declaration of Independence, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. decided to hold an art show called “Craft Multiples.”
The idea behind this show was to feature crafts that were reproduced over and over again. At the time America was declaring its independence in 1776, this was the way that people created goods.
Responding to the call for submissions to this show, Don Briddell produced two Mallard decorative decoys—a hen and a drake pictured below. Out of the approximate 13,500 entries, only 125 pieces were chosen and Don’s decoy pair was one of them.
The show was displayed in the Renwick Gallery, across the street from the White House. The Smithsonian purchased the pieces in the show for their permanent collection, but they also required artists to be willing to take at least six orders if anyone wanted to buy a “multiple” of the craftwork. In Don’s case, six people did, and so he made six more replications of this Mallard pair.
Another interesting outcome of these Mallards occurred a few years later when Don got a call from the private secretary of Vice President Mondale. She had seen the Mallards at the Vice Presidents’ house, which is located on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington DC. The Mallards in the Smithsonian collection had been selected to be the centerpiece of the Mondale’s dining room table.
The Smithsonian Institution only displays a small percentage
of its collection at any given time in their museums that line the National
Mall. When not on display pieces are stored carefully in the Institution’s archives.
The Smithsonian does loan pieces out to decorate public government buildings however,
such as the White House and the Vice President’s House. This is how they came
to be on Vice President Mondale’s dining room table.
The private secretary had liked them so much, that she ordered a pair for herself.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is, or was one of the world's largest woodpeckers with an impressive 20-inch length and 30-inch wingspan. It got the nickname the "Lord God Bird" apparently because the people who did see this elusive bird couldn't help but exclaim, "Lord, God! What a bird!" The species once ranged the swampy lowland forests of the southern United States from East Texas to the pine forests of South Carolina, and from Florida up the water ways to Kentucky. As a side note, the Ivory-billed has the distinction of being the model for Disney's Woody Woodpecker.
Because of vast habitat destruction and hunting during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Ivory-billed was feared extinct by the 1920s. But in the 1930s, in one last remaining tract of virgin swamp forest in Northeastern Louisiana, the bird was sighted again. Both film and photographs were taken of nesting Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Cornell University Ornithologist, James T. Tanner managed to crawl up to a nest hole and band a young bird, which then proceeded to jump out of the nest and fall to the ground because it couldn't yet fly. Before they got the bird back in the nest, they snapped close up pictures of this chick (above), where you can see the striking white wing markings and ivory-colored beak (really bone, not ivory) that distinguish it from the smaller and much more common Pileated Woodpecker. Unfortunately, that tract of forest was logged in the 1940s—despite pleas from four Southern governors and the National Audubon Society to spare it—and the last uncontested sighting was a lone female in 1944.
Since then, many people have reported sightings of the bird across its range, some more trustworthy than others. Until recently, the closest was a wing feather found by a man in Florida and identified as belonging to an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Then in 2005, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology announced that searchers had seen an Ivory-billed in the Big Woods in Arkansas and produced a 4.5 second video of the bird flying. This video was extensively analyzed and the team felt that because of the wing-beat rate, the colorings, the flight pattern and size, it was definitely not the Pileated Woodpecker. Other researchers have reported sightings along the Choctawhatchee River in Florida's Panhandle. Although both claims were from trained ornithologists, neither is universally accepted. There has as yet been no incontrovertible evidence.
At Overboard Art, when the news of the possible rediscovery of the bird was spreading like wildfire, Don decided it was time to include the Ivory-billed in the collection. In fact, Don spoke to Bobby Harrison, Associate Professor at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama who followed up on the original report of the Arkansas sighting and saw the bird himself. Don based his sculpture (left), from a picture Prof. Harrison sent him of an actual specimen that dated to the 1800s. We hope that one day the bird will be recovered from the edge and until then, here's a tribute to America's largest woodpecker!
Each state and territory of the United States has a state bird chosen by its legislature. The first state birds were chosen in 1927 and the last state to chose its bird was Arizona in 1973. These favored birds were special to the heart of each state, and for different reasons.
Maryland, for example, chose the Baltimore Oriole—a species that only summers in the region—because its brilliant gold and black colorings match the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore, founder of Maryland, from which it also received its name.
The state of Utah chose the Sea Gull, which seems strange since it’s not a coastal state. The story goes that it was Sea Gulls who saved the farmers’ crops during a massive cricket infestation in 1848. Utah author Orson F. Whitney says that in the midst of the devastation of the crickets, "When it seemed that nothing could stay the devastation, great flocks of gulls appeared, filling the air with their white wings and plaintive cries, and settled down upon the half-ruined fields. All day long they gorged themselves, and when full, disgorged and feasted again, the white gulls upon the black crickets, list hosts of heaven and hell contending, until the pests were vanquished and the people were saved." I guess Utah never forgot!
Not every state bird is unique; the bright red Cardinal represents seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Western Meadowlark was chosen by six states spread from Kansas to Oregon, and the Mockingbird by five southern states. Two states chose a chicken as their state bird—the Blue Hen Chicken in Delaware, and the Rhode Island Red in…you guessed it, Rhode Island!
In addition to the state birds, four states have wild game birds too. Massachusetts and South Carolina have anointed the prehistoric-looking Wild Turkey, and Georgia and Tennessee selected the sweet and onomatopoeic Bob White Quail. One state, Mississippi, also has a state waterfowl, the bold and bright Wood Duck.
Overboard Art makes pieces with nine of these birds including the Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Carolina Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, Northern Flicker, American Robin, and Baltimore Oriole—and the Wood Duck!Find your state bird below: