A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) of East Harwich, Massachusetts, is known as one of the greatest decoy makers and bird carvers of all time. The lifelike quality of his three-dimensional portrayals of American wildfowl is unsurpassed. He acquired his intimate understanding of avian anatomy and plumage patterns over the course of a lifetime spent observing and hunting Cape Cod’s abundant indigenous and migratory bird populations.
Before establishing his carving studio in 1912, he worked as a hunting guide, camp manager, market gunner, cranberry farmer, and exterminator. Crowell was inspired to start his studio by the passage of the latest in a series of federal and state hunting laws aimed at bird conservation. He decided to focus fulltime on making decoys and decorative bird “models” for sale. Although Crowell had carved decoys for his own use since he was a teenager, and later for a “who’s who” of well-to-do patrons, he found a new market for his decoys and ornamental bird carvings in collectors and tourists who appreciated them as exquisite works of art.
The ten works showcased in this online exhibition have been selected from Shelburne Museum’s collection of more than 150 carvings, paintings, and drawings by Crowell. Most works were given to the Museum in 1966, by Mrs. Stuart M. Crocker in memory of her late husband, who was a lifelong friend of Crowell and a major collector of his ornamental birds. Each object was chosen because it either demonstrates his talents as a sculptor and painter or is a milestone in his artistic career.
For more information about A. Elmer Crowell please see:
Cullity, Brian. The Songless Aviary: The world of A. E. Crowell & Son. Sandwich, MA: Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, 1992.
Earnest, Adele. The Art of the Decoy: American Bird Carvings. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1965.
Hopkins, Gwladys. Massachusetts Masterpieces: The Decoy as Art. Lincoln, MA: Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon, 2016.
O’Brien, Stephen B. Jr. and Chelsie W. Olney. Elmer Crowell: Father of American Bird Carving. Hingham, MA: Stephen O’Brien Jr. Fine Arts, LLC, 2019.
Generous support for this exhibition is provided by The Donna and Marvin Schwartz Foundation.