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Decoy season: Brothers continue a family tradition of art and outdoors
By Emily Topper
Jerry and Roy Caines’ grandfather, Joseph Jenkins “Hucks” Caines Sr., made hunting duck decoys that now sell for thousands at auctions. But when the Georgetown brothers were first approached to pick up the carving tradition by Buddy McCutchen, owner of the old Schofield Hardware, they were sure that woodworking wasn’t for them.
“He wanted me to do a painting of one of my grandfather’s decoys,” Jerry said. He came out of retirement for $1,000 to complete the painting. “And then he asked us if we could carve a decoy. I said ‘I couldn’t carve a toothpick out of a matchstick with the help of a pencil sharpener.’”
But they gave it a try, picking up the family tradition and naming their work “Caines Boys Decoys.”
In the duo, Jerry is the artist. Roy is the wood carver. The two live and work together in their family’s home on West Virginia Road just outside Georgetown, where they’ve lived since 1967. Before finding a demand for their decoys, the brothers worked on fishing and shrimping boats until the 1990s.
Their duck decoys, now strictly collectors’ items, are carved and painted in a workshop behind the family home.
The brothers are self-taught. Their grandfather, who worked as a hunting guide for Bernard Baruch at Hobcaw Barony, used to sell his decoys to hunters for a dime back in 1910. He died before the brothers were born.
With trial and error, the brothers took about six months to make the first decoy, completing it around January 2006. Now, they have their art down to a science.
“On average, I can make a full decoy in about a week from start to finish,” Roy said. “I talk to some professional carvers and they can do it in about a day, but we take longer because we put a lot more detail into it.”
Roy is responsible for doing the rough cut of the decoy with a bandsaw. They are typically made out of gum tupelo. The decoy is then passed on to his brother, who adds carving details and paint. Placing a completed carving in the light of a heat lamp, Jerry points out the hints of purple and green found in his carefully-crafted duck feathers.
The artistic element isn’t a stretch for Jerry, who fell in love with drawing and painting at an early age.
“That started back in first grade, maybe even before then,” Jerry said. “For Christmas, a teacher gave me one of those big sets with watercolors and markers and papers. I just fell in love with it and started drawing and painting.”
The brothers grew up working on boats and for their father’s fish market. Known even then as the River Boys, Jerry never lost his passion for painting. The walls of the Caines’ home are covered with Jerry’s paintings of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Samantha Fox.
Some of his oil paintings can take 20 hours or more to complete, Jerry said. He keeps copies of them in a binder, labeled with the number of hours each one took to complete. Before his brother made him start charging more, he used to price his oil paintings as low as $20.
“I told him, ‘You can’t be doing that!’” Roy said.
The brothers’ devotion and craftsmanship has earned them success at decoy competitions. Their first competition with a pintail decoy was in 2006 in Ocean City, Md. When the brothers showed up, contest organizers said that their decoys were too good to enter into a novice category.
“They put us in the intermediate category and we won three ribbons,” Roy said. “We won two second places and one third place.”
Over a decade later, it’s not unusual for the brothers to take home a blue ribbon at every competition they enter. Once Roy retires from his construction career early next year, the brothers will amp up their number of competitions.
“I’ll devote all my time back into this,” Roy said. “We already have several shows lined up to do next year.”
With their focus solely on decoys, the brothers hope that collectors will increase the number of decoy orders. Under the Caines Boys Decoys name, the brothers have made about 40 full-size decoys and over 200 miniatures.
Full-size decoys can sell for about $2,000 or higher. Miniatures sell from between $350 to $500. At the recent Wooden Boat Show in Georgetown, the brothers sold four of their miniature decoys.
“We put high prices on ours because of our name,” Roy said. “That’s why we make the miniatures. When we have orders, we can make about 20 miniatures in a week.”
While their grandfather’s decoys can sell for five or six figures at auctions, the brothers’ decoys aren’t old enough to be considered antiques.
“Our is what they call ‘too new,’ ” Jerry said. “We put our dates on the bottom so people know when they’re made.”
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