Fish Decoy

  • John Theobald, Fish Decoy, 20th century, carved and painted wood, tinned iron sheet, ferrous eye hook, and lead weight, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Alastair B. Martin, 1999.67.7

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. During the Depression, many hunters and fishermen turned again to fish spearing for survival. The decoys from this period are simpler, focusing on realistic shapes, colors, and movement rather than fanciful decoration (Steven Michaan, American Fish Decoys, 2003).

Title
Fish Decoy
Artist
Date
20th century
Location
Dimensions
1 1/4 x 6 1/4 x 1 7/8 in. (3.3 x 15.9 x 4.8 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Alastair B. Martin

Mediums
Mediums Description
carved and painted wood, tinned iron sheet, ferrous eye hook, and lead weight
Classifications
Keywords
  • Animal – fish
Object Number
1999.67.7
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More Artworks from the Collection

Fish Decoy

20th century
carved wood, galvanized iron sheet, ferrous eye hook, and lead weight

Trout Decoy

ca. 1930s
carved, painted, and varnished wood; painted plated iron sheet; painted ferrous tacks; and lead weights

Pike Decoy

ca. 1940
carved and painted wood, non-ferrous sheet metal, ferrous eye hook, lead weight, and glass eyes