Duck decoy contest organizer hopes to inspire next generation of carvers

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At his office in Frazee, Rodney Osvold shows his collection of duck decoys, ones with intricately painted details and ones that are valuable without the paint because of their history. Osvold is the founder of the National Fish Decoy Association. (Rebecca Mitchell / Focus)

FRAZEE -- Rodney Osvold's mission is to get young people into duck decoy carving.

With partnerships from people in Minneapolis and Michigan, Osvold, founder of the National Fish Decoy Association, hopes 20 youth will participate in the 23rd annual Gathering, which highlights carvers’ fish and duck decoys as well as other art and sporting collectibles.

The Gathering will return to the Perham Area Community Center April 18-19. With the front gym for shopping at 100 tables, the back gym is for judging upward of 200 entries, including for the addition of the Midwest Nationals Youth Duck Decoy Contest.

He said the contest will help youth market themselves and learn the skills of construction, art and use of a decoy.

“Once we get a young person of any age to come to our show they actually get pretty excited about stuff," Osvold said, "but the problem is 99% of these kids don’t have a shop, their dad’s not going to buy them equipment and so forth, so this gets really challenging."


To balance these challenges, the competition does not require hand carving. Instead, a duck kit of wood or cork can be used, with the painting done by the youth to resemble a drake blue wing teal.

Youth who enter the contest must be 18 and younger at the time of the event, according to a National Fish Decoy Association news release. Four to five teams of three judges each will test the decoy’s ability to right itself in a tank, clean craftsmanship and the rendition of species likeness, according to Osvold and the news release.

Another reason Osvold believes the functional art should be taught to youth is its history. The oldest decoys were made out of reeds by Native Americans and a basket of them were discovered in Nevada, according to Osvold.

“(Native Americans) had to hunt and fish for a living so that’s what this is all about, this comes from that history and that folk art so when you teach this stuff you can teach all of that so that young people today understands that way back then they didn’t have Walmart (laughs). You had to go out and find what you were going to eat for dinner (chuckles) or starve,” Osvold said.

With the current decline in hunting and fishing licenses, groups from the National Fish Decoy Association to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have formed new programs, according to Osvold. As a hunter and fisher, Osvold sees the art and ownership in decoys.

“I just love to paint. I’m not an artist and I like to use them, and so if you use your own creation and you get some fish, well it’s a lot more satisfying than going and buying a plastic one and getting some fish, because you made the decoy that decoyed them in,” Osvold said.

The youth duck decoy competition joins 36 other classes of events with awards that bring carvers from across the United States. The classes range in number of entries with some only having four or five, but the key is giving carvers enough time to work on their creations, according to Osvold. From children collecting plastic fish to women collecting sunfish and wealthy collectors buying out tables of fish decoys, Osvold invites all to appreciate the talents presented.

If you go

  • What: The Gathering: Sporting Collectibles, Art and Fish and Duck Decoys
  • When: April 18-19
  • Where: Perham Area Community Center
  • Cost: $8 per day for adults, free for youths
  • Prizes: The Midwest Nationals Youth Duck Contest awards $200 for first, $100 for second and $50 for third to fifth places.
  • More information: Visit . Registration for the contests are on Friday, April 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday, April 18 from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Contestants cannot mail in entries but can have another person bring and register their entry. Winners are announced at an awards banquet at The Cactus for a cost of $35.


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A display of fish and duck decoys shows the legacies of local and national artists. Osvold's fish decoys designed with the painting that he enjoys more than carving are on the bottom left. (Rebecca Mitchell / Focus)

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