Call of the Wild at Dixon Gallery and Gardens

The Call of the Wild: Sporting Art in the Mississippi Flyway at Memphis' Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Nov. 12 to Jan. 7 celebrates the cultural phenomenon of the duck decoy as American Folk Art with more than 200 antique and contemporary decoys from the Canadian Provinces down through Louisiana, as well as decoys from the Atlantic, Midwest, and Pacific Flyways.

The large variety of styles that emerged from the carving of the duck form, with its flowing lines and muted colors depicting plumage patterns, make these floating sculptures unique.

Exactly when the wooden decoy made the transition to art is hard to say, but certainly the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, growing awareness of conservation, and the modern mass production of cheap, plastic decoys aided in its transformation.

The decoy, once considered only as a functional lure, has now become an important facet of American Folk Art as sculpture with historic and artistic value.

The exhibition features such celebrated carvers such as Charles Perdew, Robert Elliston, the Ward Brothers, Elmer Crowell, Charles Schoenheider, Paul Lipkey, and John Blair.

Also included are over 30 award-winning contemporary decoys from the annual Ward World Wildfowl Carving Competition sponsored by the Ward Museum of WildFowl Art in Salisbury, Md., and considered the most prestigious carving competition in the world. This competition boasts over 150 varieties of bird carvings from highly decorative works of art to functional hunting decoys by 800 of the world's best carvers.

Contemporary decoys by local carvers Allen Hughes and Kerry Smith will also be on display.

The exhibition will be enhanced with a wide array of hunting artifacts, including punt boats, calls, shells, and casings from the collection of Howard Harlan that paint the picture of this Mid-South sporting art as well as a selection of more than 60 paintings, prints, and drawings by such celebrated waterfowl artists as John James Audubon, Roland Clark, David Maass, Francis Lee Jaques, George Browne, and Harry Adamson.

Sporting art in America goes back to our earliest times; it evolved from our European forebears who enjoyed paintings and sculptures of hunting and the chase. Early artists played a role in sporting ethics through their paintings, prints, and book and magazine illustrations by developing rules of etiquette that gave game animals a sporting chance.

In addition, 19 vintage photographs will be displayed, covering the 1890s to the 1950s. See photographs of Nash Buckingham, Herb Parsons, and Pat Peacock, the Hatchie Coon Hunting and Fishing Club, Five Lakes Hunting Club, and Big Lake Shooting Club. Also displayed with be four photographs of the famous Wallace Claypool's Wild Acres, featuring some 300,000 ducks in front of the camera.

You will also be able to view a 1921 video of Nash Buckingham hunting geese on the Mississippi River below Greenville, Miss., hunting ducks at Wapanocca Outing Club near Turrell, Ark., and hunting quail at a plantation near Grenada, Miss.

A different video will feature Wild Acres, filmed by George Purvis in the mid-1950s. The last video will feature duck calling by Herb Parsons, Earl Dennison, Tom Turpin, Pat Peacock, and Wallace Claypool.

This exhibition, curated by Henri L. Wedell, Leonard R. Johnson, Wayne Capooth, and Byron Webster and its attendant interpretive programs will celebrate this cultural phenomenon artistically and historically with a salute to the preservation of the environment.

Set amid 17 acres of formal and informal gardens, the Dixon, located at 4339 Park Avenue, is open Tuesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about this event, you can call (901) 761-5250, or visit the museum's website at

On another subject, if anyone has information regarding the Tally Ho Hunting and Fishing Club of New Orleans, please contact me. I am trying to determine if it's the oldest hunting club in America.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.