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Charles Birch (1867-1956)
Willis Wharf, VA, c. 1920
There are only a handful of Birch swan decoys known to exist. Born in Maryland and raised on Chincoteague, Birch moved south to Willis Wharf, Virginia in Northampton County at age thirty-nine where he was a boat builder, waterman and decoy carver. This hollow swan, with its graceful down-turned head, and long slender neck features an inserted oak bill, tack eyes and a raised neck seat. Its bold form places it amongst the top tier of the known Birch swan examples. Used at the Gooseville Gun Club in Hatteras, North Carolina, this confidence decoy came out of the rig of the club's founder, George Albert Lyon (1882-1961), an industrialist, avid sportsman and long-time friend of the sporting author Van Campen Heilner, who documented the club and wrote A Book on Duck Shooting. Charles Birch swans have achieved a coveted status amongst decoy collectors today, as few carvers made more graceful designs. The hollow patterned birds with their proud breasts and sweeping arched necks have long captured the attention of folk art collectors. Working Swan decoys of any type are exceptionally rare as most were used as confidence decoys. When they were employed in a rig which was not that frequent, it would typically only be a single decoy.
Old working repaint with light gunning wear. Weights removed.
George Albert Lyon Rig, Gooseville Gun Club, North Carolina
Private Collection, by descent in the Lyon family
Private Collection, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America", New York, NY, 2010, p. 213, similar decoy illustrated. Joe Engers, ed., "The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys," San Diego, CA, 1990, pp. 160-161, similar example illustrated.