Fish Decoy

  • Unidentified, Fish Decoy, probably 20th century, painted wood with painted metal, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson, 1986.65.47

Luce Center Label

Carved fish decoys are one of the earliest forms of American folk art. Hunters around the Bering Sea first used small bone or ivory decoys for ice fishing around 1000 AD. They believed that the decoys embodied the innua, or inner spirit of the fish. The practice spread to upstate New York and the Great Lakes, where it became a tourist industry with many communities growing around prime fishing areas. Ice fishing was banned in 1905, however, because the popularity of the sport had brought about a serious decline in large game fish.

Fish Decoy
probably 20th century
On View
1 3/8 x 4 5/8 x 1 3/4 in. (3.5 x 11.8 x 4.3 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Herbert Waide Hemphill, Jr. and museum purchase made possible by Ralph Cross Johnson

Mediums Description
painted wood with painted metal
  • Animal – fish
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More from artist

19th century
wax bas relief
19th or 20th century
carved and painted wood
enamel and gilded metal
probably 20th century
painted and varnished wood
ca. 1850
watercolor on ivory

More Artworks from the Collection

ca. 1940s
carved and painted wood, painted copper sheet, ferrous eye hook, lead weight, and glass eyes
ca. 1920s
carved and painted wood, brass sheet, painted ferrous tack eyes, ferrous eye hook, and painted lead weight
20th century
carved wood, galvanized iron sheet, ferrous eye hook, and lead weight
ca. 1940
carved and painted wood, painted tinned iron sheet, bent and painted ferrous metal staple, lead weight, and pinhead eyes