Harford Magazine - Page 70 - Fowl play - continued from page 68

Harford Magazine
- Page 70
Fowl play - continued from page 68

“This is not something you can learn in a one-month crash course,” he said. “I carved six years before I ever made a whole duck, and 10 years before I mastered the painting. You’re tentative at first, afraid to cut off too much [wood] for fear of destroying your duck. But if you err too much on the side of caution, you get a square-looking head.”

 

Painting the birds is a rewarding if oft-frustrating job. Imagine depicting the subtle markings and nuances of 25 different ducks, as he has done.

 

“A lot of the early ones that I painted, I’d like to have back— or burned,” Carson said. “You realize who your friends are when they buy your early ducks.”

 

His heads are made of basswood, the soft, sap-free trunk of the linden tree. While Carson shapes the bodies largely with machine tools, the heads are mostly hand-made.

 

“This is what I’m scared of, the worst of all tools,” he said, reaching for a carving knife to sculpt the mallard’s cheeks. Once, while working, the knife slipped and plunged into his hand.

 

“My hand went black and I had to knock off carving until the deep puncture healed,” he said.

 

Finally, having run the gauntlet of band saws, wood rasps and belt sanders, the mallard is complete. Head greets body with a band of epoxy glue. Carson steps back, inspecting his work. At what point can he imagine the duck quacking?

 

“Usually when I’ve been drinking too much,” he said. “Really, when I look at this, I feel good, like I’ve not only carried on a tradition but refined it. It’s not all about the money; I want to put beautiful pieces out there that represent the area.”

 

He paused, caressing the smooth, newborn mallard. “Maybe, in four or five years, I’ll get back into this.”