By Teri Black
For over 20 years, Jacksonville native Marvin Ford has carved exquisite ducks, first as hunting decoys and now as art. This November, Ford will display his carvings at the Strawn Art Gallery.
Starting in 1980, Ford was first interested by the different ducks he saw hunting. He admired the beauty and colors of the animals and decided that he would carve a decoy. In the beginning, Ford admits that he knew very little of the carving process, but he continued to hone his skills with the help of fellow carvers as well as manuals.
Today, Ford carves about 60 ducks per year, a number which he says tripled after his retirement in 1991. In the summer, Ford enjoys being outside, whether that is fishing or golfing, and he often carves in the afternoon. He says he carves almost every day between October and March. While Ford calls his art “just a hobby,” the work which goes into each duck is incredible. To begin, Ford starts with a block of wood and then draws a pattern of the duck he wants to carve. The head and body are carved separately. The next step is to cut the top and side profiles of the duck with a band saw. Excess wood is removed with a tool called a Foredem, and the basic shape of the duck is revealed by sanding. Detail is added with a lead or acrylic pencil first before being hand-carved into the wood.
To carve a basic, non-textured decoy takes about a day, while a textured body can take two or sometimes three days. Painting the duck takes even longer – about four or more days for a textured duck, head and body. Ford attests that “painting is critical.” A well-carved decoy can be ruined by an unskilled painter, while a crude decoy can be saved by paint. Ford says there are two types of painting: painting for effect, which looks better from a distance, and realistic painting, which he focuses on. Before the painting even begins, Ford seals his ducks and then covers them in white gesso, a white paint used by artists on everything from wood to canvas. When the gesso is dry, Ford redraws all the feathers and begins painting with acrylics to get the basic color down for each area of the duck. Ford uses an airbrush for the rough painting and a hand brush for the details. Once the duck is painted, it is sealed again with a matte finish. Ford uses wax to create a realistic shine for the bill.
Ford says he painted for 15 or 20 years before showcasing his art. He often gave away paintings to friends and family for free before realizing his talent. But as Ford advanced in his carving, he attended art and decoy shows, learning from the veteran carvers there. With varying sizes, Ford’s carvings sell from $25 to ahigh of $750. “Everyone has something they’re intended to do,” Ford says. “Carving was something I was intended to do.”