Decoy Magazine Book Reviews
January/February 2010

Minnesota Duck Decoys – Yesterday’s and Today’s Folk Artists By Doug Lodermeier

Reviewed By Donna Tonelli

Author Doug Lodermeier’s first book, “Minnesota Duck Calls, Yesterdays and Today’s Folk Artists,” is recognized as the definitive reference on the state’s game calls and their makers. His follow-up release, “Minnesota Duck Decoys, Yesterdays and Today’s Folk Artists,” is every bit as thorough. If you want to know something – make that anything – about a Minnesota decoy maker, past or present, living or dead, it’s likely you’ll find it within the pages of this massive, well-illustrated 784 page book.

Minnesota is a state that boasts few familiar names for collectors, so it was surprising that the author was able to provide a comprehensive history of more than 300 decoy makers, including details of their lives, perspectives on their artistic accomplishments and over 1000 color photographs of the birds they carved. He personally interviewed many living carvers and relatives of those who passed on, providing the first documented history of many of their lives. He also had access to some of the finest Midwest collections, enabling him to photograph some of the best examples of Minnesota decoys. And he acquired permission to reprint dozens of related articles by people recognized as experts in their field.

This book works on several levels. First and foremost, it’s designed as a reference for identifying the makers of Minnesota decoys. They range from factories with extensive offerings, such as George Herter’s huge enterprise, to the little known wire frame “Minnesota Duck Chair” that was made to prop up a dead duck as a decoy. It heralds the efforts of the masters, such as John Tax, Alfred Moes and the Heron Lake carvers, but also includes a section on unknown makers, who created strongly individual interpretations of a well-serviceable decoy.

Additionally, the author provides a living history of duck hunting in Minnesota. He takes the reader beyond the object by adding the rich biographical sketches of the people who participated in the sport and hunted ducks over those decoys. Illustrated with period photos, it provides a window to an earlier time when duck hunting celebrated its heyday. Any historian of Minnesota past, particularly sporting enthusiasts, will find this of great interest.

Lastly, the author acknowledges and documents the contributions of today’s broad spectrum of contemporary carvers who carry on the state’s rich folk art tradition – Marty Hanson, Marv Bernet and Marc Meyer among the roughly two dozen included – dedicating nearly 150 pages to their efforts.

As a reward for his dedication and research, Lodermeier had the thrill of uncovering a virtually unknown decoy maker, Ole Gunderson, a bachelor from Ashby who lived quietly as a farm laborer and died in obscurity 50 years ago. Tracking down a lead, he discovered a treasure trove of his decoys, about 15 or 20, in a shed not long before publication of his book. Used on Lake Christina, they have fine sculptural form and rate among the finest decoys ever made in Minnesota. His discovery will benefit their owner financially, but more importantly it has preserved a prize piece of Minnesota waterfowling history for future generations.

As a partner in a Minneapolis design firm, Lodermeier had the means and skills to self-publish both of his books, allowing him to execute his original concept with virtually no restrictions on page count or number of photos, limits generally imposed by outside publishers looking to return a profit. Yet despite what might appear as limited sales opportunities, his concept obviously worked, as the call book is now out of print and the first edition of 1000 copies of the decoy book has already sold out. He’s now taking a limited number of orders for a second edition. If you enjoy Minnesota decoys or waterfowling history, don’t wait until it’s gone.