"The Finest Decoys Ever Produced": The Shorebirds of John Dilley
The exquisitely crafted shorebird decoys of John Dilley were promoted in Henry C. Squires’ 1890 catalogue as “the finest decoys ever produced,” and few connoisseurs would argue that point. Their elegant forms, complex paint patterns, and variety of plumages are unrivalled. In 1955, famed carver Elmer Crowell’s son, Cleon, was shown a Dilley plover. He said he didn’t know who had made it, but it was the best shorebird he had ever seen.
The Museum of American Bird Art is proud to present an unprecedented exhibit of eight different shorebird species carved and painted by John Dilley. Visitors will see a yellowlegs, a golden plover in breeding plumage, a dowitcher in breeding plumage, a red knot, a ruddy turnstone in breeding plumage, an Eskimo curlew, a black-bellied plover, and a willet. A second Eskimo curlew decoy bearing the Squires stamp is also on view.
The paint is masterful, with finely textured patterns as well as bold strokes, and subtle use of color. And the birds are satisfyingly shaped to delight the eye. The decoys in the exhibit are on loan from The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY and are part of a group of three dozen birds found on Gibson’s Island, Maryland and purchased by that museum in 1955.