Fish Decoy

Media - 1999.67.14 - SAAM-1999.67.14_1 - 62550
Copied Unidentified (American), Fish Decoy, ca. 1940, carved and painted wood, painted tinned iron sheet, bent and painted ferrous metal staple, lead weight, and pinhead eyes, 15 121 58 in. (2.414.14.0 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Alastair B. Martin, 1999.67.14
Free to use

Artwork Details

Title
Fish Decoy
Artist
Unidentified (American)
Date
ca. 1940
Dimensions
15 121 58 in. (2.414.14.0 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Alastair B. Martin
Mediums
Mediums Description
carved and painted wood, painted tinned iron sheet, bent and painted ferrous metal staple, lead weight, and pinhead eyes
Classifications
Keywords
  • Animal
  • Animal — fish
Object Number
1999.67.14

Artwork Description

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).