Jim started carving duck decoys at five years old on Harsen’s Island, Mich. where he grew up with seven brothers and a sister. His father, George, was a duck hunter and a guide who carved decoys for hunting and sold them throughout the winter for food. George’s decoys, which sold for four dollars then, sell for as much $5,000 to antique collectors now.
As a boy, Jim was also able to sell his decoys, usually for enough money to get a hot lunch at school – they were 25 cents – or trade them for groceries.
“I remember taking a bunch of duck decoys in my wagon or sleigh into town where the meat market was, and he’d load me up with meat, and he’d put (the decoys) in the window and he’d sell them all,” he said. “We bartered like that for years.”
He and his family had to find creative ways to feed themselves.
“I lived three miles from school. I would take the bus … or walk to school carrying a shotgun,” he said. “I’d go right to school, put the shotgun in my locker, no problems. At three o’clock I’d get the shotgun and my shells and I’d walk home through all the corn fields and shoot pheasants on the way home, and I’d clean them and that’s what we had for dinner. I did that almost every day.”
Jim said he and the rest of his family always had several jobs on the farms that surrounded his home and that he learned to work hard.
Though he loved carving, he tried his hand at other hobbies: “We were all into music, but I was tone deaf so I couldn't even play the guitar,” he said. “The guy asked me to quit.”
His first commission came from a doctor who asked him to make a snowy owl.
Despite his success at trading and selling his carvings, he never considered carving a hobby until about 35 years ago.
Before that, at 14, he left home to work for a carnival during winter and did farm work the rest of the year. He also had a boat livery, owned a gun shop, worked for General Motors and, finally, was a general manager of Griswold Sporting Goods in Detroit.
Then, in his late twenties, Jim said he was tired of the cold and snow, and having been to Florida on vacation decided to move.
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