FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kristen Levesque
Shelburne Museum Reattributes Shorebird Decoys to Native American Carver Charles Sumner Bunn
SHELBURNE, Vt. (October 5, 2021) After extensive research, Shelburne Museum has reattributed five shorebird decoys in its collection to the Native American carver who made them, Charles Sumner Bunn (1865-1952).
“For nearly a century, there has been confusion and controversy surrounding the identity of the maker of these shorebird decoys,” said Kory Rogers, Francie and John Downing Senior Curator of American Art at Shelburne Museum. “This group of rare and beautifully crafted shorebirds—three dowitchers and two yellowlegs—had been attributed and reattributed to the hands of multiple craftsmen based on superficial comparisons, personal hunches and unverified lore. Until now.”
Since 1966, the decoys were credited to William Bowman (1826-1906) of Bangor, Maine, a mysterious and possibly fictitious character about whom little is known. That has been disproven thanks to new evidence uncovered by researchers James Reason and Joseph Jannsen, decoy makers and contributing writers about Long Island decoys for Decoy Magazine. Using a combination of historical photographs, documented family history and by connecting the dots between the carver and the decoys used by his clientele, Reason and Jannsen constructed a convincing argument that formed the basis for the museum’s decision to acknowledge Bunn as the maker of its shorebirds.
Bunn, a member of the Shinnecock-Montauk tribes, earned his living as a hunting guide with a reputation for carving realistic decoys. He lived most of his life on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation located within the boundaries of Southhampton, Long Island. As a young man, Bunn learned to hunt and fish from his paternal grandfather, skills that served him well as a professional guide and bayman catering to the Hampton’s powerful and wealthy summer residents. Known as the “Dean of Suffolk County decoy carvers,” Bunn produced a wide variety of waterfowl decoys including many species of ducks as well as geese and brant. His shorebird decoys have garnered the most attention from both collectors and historians who prize them for the superior quality of their realistic anatomical carving and delicate impressionistic plumage.
The online exhibition, In Plain Sight: Rediscovering Charles Sumner Bunn’s Decoys, on view on the museum’s website, lays out the case for setting the historical record straight by recognizing the artistic accomplishments of a talented indigenous decoy carver.
Exhibition Opening: In Plain Sight: Rediscovering Charles Sumner Bunn’s Decoys
Wednesday, October 6, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. Free Zoom Webinar
Join Chief Curator Kory Rogers to celebrate the virtual opening of In Plain Sight: Rediscovering Charles Sumner Bunn’s Decoys alongside special guests Jamie Reason and Joseph Jannsen, decoy makers and contributing writers on Long Island decoys for Decoy Magazine, who will present on the extraordinary life and art of master carver Charles Sumner Bunn (1865-1952), a member of the Shinnecock-Montauk tribes described as “the greatest decoy carver who ever lived.” Presentation to be followed by live audience Q&A. Register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_sp59b_JYR9m5fwqhqRTYjA
Shelburne Museum’s Decoy Collection
Shelburne Museum’s unparalleled collection of 1,400 wildfowl decoys is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections in the country. The collection was established in 1952 with a gift of more than 400 superior examples from Joel Barber, a New York City architect, artist and carver. Barber’s groundbreaking book Wild Fowl Decoys (1934) was the first to identify the importance of decoys as a uniquely American art form. The collection includes examples by prominent carvers John Blair, Bill Bowman, Charles Sumner Bunn, Anthony Elmer Crowell, Lee Dudley, Joseph Lincoln, Don Preston, George Warin, Shang Wheeler and Gus Wilson. Decoys from Maine, Long Island, Chesapeake Bay, Illinois, Quebec, and other regions are on view in the museum’s Dorset House.
Image Caption: Charles Sumner Bunn (Shinnecock Reservation, Southampton, Long Island, New York, 1865-1952), Dowitcher and Yellowlegs Shorebird Stick-up Decoys, ca. 1890-1900. Wood, paint and metal, between 9 1/2 x 4 x 10 in. and 12 1/4 x 4 x 8 1/2 in. Collection of Shelburne Museum.
Hi-res images available HERE.
About Shelburne Museum
Founded in 1947 by trailblazing folk art collector Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888–1960), Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, is the largest art and history museum in northern New England and Vermont’s foremost public resource for visual art and material culture. The Museum’s 45-acre campus is comprised of 39 buildings including the Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education and Webb Gallery featuring important American paintings by Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, Grandma Moses, John Singleton Copley and many more. For more information, please visit shelburnemuseum.org