Artist Profile: Benchmark
Decoy carver Tom Boozer preserves time-honored skills learned at the knee of a woodworking legend
“I don’t own a computer: it can’t make anything, and by this point—and I’m not boasting—I don’t need it to sell anything I make,” decoy carver Tom Boozer rationalizes. The old saying goes, “It ain’t bragging if you really done it.” Well,
Boozer has made decoys for folks from as far away as England and Australia. A standard rig of 12 duck decoys fetches $4,000. We’re talking working field decoys, not something you dust on the mantel, though they’re sure pretty enough for that (King Street’s Audubon Gallery has spectacular models for such displays).
When the sap is down, Boozer harvests Eastern white cedar from deep in the swamp near his creekfront spread outside Meggett. This cedar, which looks similar to cypress and favors the same environment, is light, durable, and easy to work. After lying several months submerged in water right where they fall, the logs are hauled to a friend’s sawmill to be cut to the artist’s specs. Then Boozer air cures the wood for two years before it’s ready to work.
Sitting on his worn bench, Boozer wields an aged Buck pocketknife to carve the head of a blue-winged teal. He’s old-school: other tools include a Boy Scout hatchet to rough out the body and a 150-year-old drawknife inherited from his mentor, Sumter’s legendary master woodworker Olin Ballentine, whom Boozer apprenticed himself to at age nine. The drawknife shaves wafer-thin curls of wood, rounding off the body: “There are no square edges on a duck,” he stresses. Steadily, the block metamorphoses into something so lifelike that you’re surprised when it doesn’t start quacking.
Once he’s finished carving, Boozer painstakingly paints the feathers and bill; outfits the rig with weights and anchorline; tests its seaworthiness before making necessary adjustments to the weights; and puts the rig in a carrying bag to ship to clients in such places as Virginia and Canada. With a little care, the lucky owner’s great-grandchildren may be shooting over these treasures decades from now.
To order decoys in time for next hunting season, call Boozer at (843) 889-3390 or visit Audubon Gallery at 190 King Street.