|North American Decoys
A pioner publication in the field of decoy carving and collecting
Byron and Maureen Cheever were the devoted editors and publishers of North American Decoys, one of the pioneer publications in the field of decoy carving and collecting, from its inception in 1967 to its demise in 1984. Its title was to acknowledge the number of carvers and collectors in Canada as well as the United States.
Byron, who had long been an admirer of birds and wildlife, as well as coming from a family of hunters, was initially attracted by a pair of beautiful decoys made by Ton Hunter of Fleisherton, Ontario. He immediately fell in love with them, and eventually, with decoys in general. Byron found decoys as another avenue to appreciate the various forms of wildlife, without the care needed in the raising of wild birds. His wife would simply have to dust them.
This budding interest prompted him to read everything he could locate on decoys - who the carvers were, how they were made and where to find them. He was elated when he discovered Hal Sorenson’s Decoy Collectors Guide, and was equally disappointed when he found out that Hal was soon discontinuing the publication. But he soon realized this presented an opportunity as well.
Maureen was certainly surprised when Byron announced one day that he was going to publish a magazine on decoys. Actually he amazed everyone, as he knew nothing about publishing, having had no training or background with any facet of the business. But publish a magazine they did.
The Cheevers enlisted the help of some friends, the Allens, who were the publishers of Game Bird Breeders Gazette. The Allens showed Byron how to layout the pages and found a lady to handle the typesetting. The first issues of the magazine were then printed on the Allen’s personal press in Salt Lake City, Utah. A labor of love had just begun.
The new magazine allowed Byron to share the knowledge he had acquired while expressing his creativity. He wrote all the copy for that first issue and took most of the photographs. Each printed signature of the magazine was placed in stacks on the dining room table and the family walked in circles, picking up the pages in sequence and handing them to Byron, who stapled them together.
The first issue of the magazine was introduced at the decoy competition at the Greater Mississippi Valley Fair in Davenport, Iowa. Single issues and subscriptions were sold to many of the decoy enthusiasts in the grandstands, and North American Decoys, to be published quarterly and now a reality, was off and running. It would become the controlling force in the Cheever household for nearly 20 years.
They soon purchased their own typesetting machine, which Maureen learned how to use, and Byron continued as the designer and layout specialist. From 1968 to 1972 the quarterly issues were published in a nine by seven-inch format with a limited amount of color. In 1972 they found a new printer and changed the format to a standard 8 1/2 by 11-inch magazine size, running the front and back covers and several inside pages in full color. It was a quality publication with limited display ads. About that time they began issuing a “News and Trading Bulletin” four times a year as an outlet for collectors interested in buying and selling decoys and other related items. It eventually grew in size and was renamed “North American Decoys Trader,” and included short stories, carving competition results and classifieds.
The content of the magazine was a balance between historical documentation of the old time decoy makers and a celebration of the new generation of decorative carvers and how they fared in the competitions of the day. Their subscriber list eventually grew to 3000 with magazines shipped throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Europe and Japan.
The magazine continued to be published quarterly through 1979, with every spare moment devoted to the magazine. Many articles were submitted by collectors throughout the country and contest winners were encouraged to submit information about themselves and their work. Some of their contributors included collecting stalwarts such as Barney Crandell, Bill Purnell, Robyn Hardy, Charles Frank, Mort Hanson, Joe and Donna Tonelli, Will Pennington, and Bill Mackey. This was a new outlet for carvers, including Bob Kerr, John Scheeler, Bill Koelpin and Joe Wooster, and made many a household name to wildfowl enthusiasts throughout the world.
In the midst of all this, the Cheevers managed to publish two decoy books, one on the Mason Decoy factory of Detroit and the other on the Ward brothers of Crisfield, Maryland. They actively visited carvers from coast to coast and became well recognized throughout the decoy world, rubbing shoulders with the rich and the famous. They particularly enjoyed visiting with Wendell Gilley and his wife, Addie, in their little shop in Southwest Harbor, Maine. It was a very exciting time, but not without its share of stress.
Later the Cheevers added three more books to their list of publications: “Decoys, A North American Survey,” by Gene & Linda Kangas, “Shang,” a biography of Charles E. Wheeler by Dixon Merkt, and “Floating Sculpture,” a book on Delaware River decoys by Harrison Huster and Doug Knight.
While managing this growing venture Byron maintained his full time job at a bank. In 1979 the bank transferred him, requiring a move and the building of a new home. The first items they moved into the unfinished basement of their new quarters were the light table and the typesetting machine, hoping the magazine’s deadlines would not be interrupted. Yet they soon found out that the printers had less concern then they did.
Due to the requirements of their involvement in church activities, and some health problems and family illnesses, no magazines were published in 1980. They found the world didn’t stop and stand still. In 1981 and 1982 an expanded version of North American Decoys was published twice a year. Another trip to the hospital suspended operations in 1983 and one final issue was published in 1984. Byron retired from the bank in 1985, hoping to work full time on the magazine, but he had lost his desire and no further issues were printed.
The Cheevers celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1994 with their five children and 21 grandchildren. The following summer Byron was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Although the news was devastating, at least they identified his problems. They now live in a retirement community.
Byron Cheever turned his interests in birds and wildlife into a part time career as a decoy enthusiast, all the while juggling the daily responsibilities of life. Their many years of publishing North American Decoys and the publication of the handful of books on decoys and decoy collecting, gave them an opportunity to share their knowledge on the subject and make countless numbers of friends. That so many collectors and carvers appreciated those efforts, and still collect and refer to the back issues today, provides pleasant memories to brighten their days.
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