|Joseph W. Lincoln
by Cap Vinal
Reviewed by Jackson Parker
The dust cover of this book about one of our greatest decoy makers sums it up neatly. The front cover shows the familiar dour old Joe Lincoln with an armful of his classic decoys, nothing new there. But the back cover is a startling photo of over 50 freshly painted Lincoln canvas-covered oldsquaws and white-winged scoters set out to dry. And that is what this first book on Lincoln is all about. On the one hand, there is nothing you haven’t read in previous publications. But on the other hand, there are things you haven’t seen before, like that back cover photo, more photos of Lincoln as a younger man, and more details about Accord Pond where he lived and worked most of his life.
It is a thin book, only 87 pages plus index, consisting of six pages of biography with photos of Joe’s world; six pages about his decoy-making with interior photos of his shop; a seven-page article about Joe from the Boston Glove of November 3, 1918; six pages of two other articles about Joe from the Boston Traveler of March 6, 1926 and February 9, 1933, all illustrated.
The bulk of the book consists of 46 color pages of the Lincoln decoys and miniatures. We have two reservations about this section: choice of decoys and skimpy captions. It opens with 10 black ducks, six of which have repaint and none of which come up to the quality of the better Lincoln blacks I have seen, such as the magnificent “pair” with only the slight shading of the bill paint to signify the sex of each. I believe you do a disservice to the decoy maker when you don’t show his very best work. The captions are limited to paint, eyes, wing delineation, head position, brands and other minor details. I’d prefer more in an analysis of style, preferably in chronological order to show development. This section includes the Mackey quote from the Hatch diary, which indicates there are Lincoln shorebird copies made by others who were encouraged by Lincoln to do so, but no indication of how to tell the difference between them. I recall the analysis of the Shelburne decoys made by 16 of us many years ago when the nights were full of discussions over the knife marks on the shorebirds by Lincoln and whether they revealed who made them. We could not reach agreement then and we don’t know of any now, since no distinction is made in the Lincoln shorebird photos in this book, and I believe this important subject should have been covered.
The book closes with Joe’s epitaph and indicates he died of coronary tuberculosis and was cremated. The book includes information about the North Shore Gun Club, of which Joe was a member, with some photos of the membership.
When I received this book, I was happy to see that at last Joe Lincoln had a study made of his own life and output, but I was wrong. Such a study must be comprehensive covering all details, analyzing a style in comparison with a carver’s region and time period and attempting to answer all questions about proper identification. There are no more than a half-dozen books that analyze the complete output of the significant American deco makers in this manner. I refer principally to Ann Tandy Lacy’s “Perdew” (272 pages), Dixon Merkt’s “Shang” (199 pages), Ron Gard and Brian McGrath’s “Ward Brothers’ Decoys”(139 pages) and Brian Cullity’s “Songless Aviary” about Crowell (126 pages). It doesn’t have to be a splendid tome like the Perdew book. Cullity’s study of Crowell is a paper-bound book describing a loan exhibition and yet it is one of the most scholarly studies of a great decoy maker that we have.
This book is beautifully designed by its author and has been privately printed in an edition of 1000 copies, which, in spite of its shortcomings, is destined to make it a collector’s copy. The book is a bit pricey at $98, which includes shipping, and is available from the author at 41 Sharp St., Hingham, MA 02043, (781) 337-1030.
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