Oscar “Pelee” Peterson is among the best known and most widely imitated fish carvers. He began carving around 1905 and may have made as many as ten thousand to fifteen thousand decoys. He sold many of them through bait stands and sporting goods shops during his productive career. Peterson also carved trade signs for fishing businesses and more decorative objects for interior use. His unique carving and painting style influenced other regional carvers to duplicate his “fish,” creating what is now called the “Cadillac style.” A reference to Peterson’s home town, “Cadillac” also alludes to the quality of his craftsmanship, easily distinguished by careful, detailed painting and the characteristic gentle curve in each decoy’s body.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)
Oscar “Pelee” Peterson lived in Cadillac, Michigan, and was the most prolific carver of fish decoys. During the day, he worked as a gardener and handyman, and in the evenings he carved and painted sculptures in a small log cabin workshop. Between 1905 and 1940, he carved more than fifteen thousand decoys, animals, store signs, and plaques. He developed the “Cadillac style” of fish decoys carved in a candle shape, which other wood-carvers often imitate. Peterson was also an enthusiastic hunter, boat builder, and fishing guide (Steven Michaan, American Fish Decoys, 2003).