A collage of two duck decoys

Duck… Duck… Decoys in the Museum!

By Patricia Reid, Collections Manager

On this midwinter’s day, I know I’m not the only one thinking about spring – and what’s more springlike than seeing birds return to water after a long winter? Or how about ducks flocking to the museum? Today, I’d like highlight one of the Museum’s newest acquisitions – Bob Borquist’s duck decoys.

The American Wigeon is a prolific dabbling duck (meaning they feed in shallow water by dabbling, or upending, their bodies rather than diving). These waterfowl have been seen on rare occasions breeding along the eastern shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont.

Robert Borquist was born on February 9, 1934, during the worst blizzard anyone in Highland, NY could remember since 1888. His father died when Bob was a young teenager, and soon after, Bob began working to support the family. At age 17, he followed in his older brother’s footsteps and joined the Navy. He spent most of his service onboard the USS John S. McCain United States Navy Destroyer as a crewman. After his discharge in 1955, Bob worked for 36 years as a self-taught model maker for IBM, crafting wooden prototypes of machine designs yet to be built. In 1972, Bob started his own cabinetry business, and found a love for carving while searching for a way to pass the time while the cabinets’ glue was drying. His work quickly proliferated, and Bob completed over 800 carvings in the subsequent decades. Many of these works represent the waterfowl commonly found along the eastern seaboard, along with plenty of carved creatures of the four-legged variety, and of course, a self-portrait or two.

The Atlantic Puffin. Although typically a species found on the seacoast, this carved puffin is the only example of Borquist’s wood burning work among the Museum’s new pieces. All the other decoys are painted.
Bob didn’t just carve ducks.
Undated Self Portrait, Bob Borquist. Courtesy Borquist Family.

In December 1974, Bob cofounded the Hudson Valley Wood Carvers with Bob McKean to promote the art of woodcarving throughout the region. He found great success with the Carvers, and his work was shared at local breweries, community fairs, and art shows in the area. A number of Borquist carvings were even displayed at the Paul Smith’s College VIC in the Adirondacks and several of his works were purchased by private collectors.

The Surf Scooter. While perhaps a rare sighting on Lake Champlain, you might find a Surf Scooter nestled among the marshy spring tree lines at Crown Point, NY.

Bob passed away in March 2020 and in the fall of 2021, Bob’s widow, Brenda, reached out to the Museum to offer a selection of his wonderful carved decoys for our collection. Brenda’s offer came at the perfect time as the Museum has been working on updates to our Hazelett Small Watercraft exhibition, which includes several small watercrafts traditionally used for waterfowl hunting. Bob’s beautifully carved decoys make a fantastic pairing with our canvas-on-wood rowboat, which was used as a duck hunting boat on Missisquoi Bay in the early 20th century.  We are delighted to join these pieces of history together, and we hope you’ll visit us at the Museum this summer to enjoy these beautiful new additions to our Collection.

Next time you spy a bird outside your living room window, we hope you’ll send Bob and his family a friendly mental tweet. Warmest of wishes on this coldest of winter days.

Top left: Bob in the water amongst his closest feathered friends, undated photo.
Bottom left: Bob holding some of his waterfowl carvings in progress.
Right: A few of Bob’s ducks in progress at his home studio.
All images courtesy of the Bourquist Family.