Gary B. Giberson, Master Decoy Carver



Gary Giberson of Port Republic, New Jersey, USA,
has been polishing his craft of decoy carving for over
sixty years.

First taught to carve by his grandfather, Alonzo Giberson
(1866-1951), he was further influenced by the works of
John Updike, Lem Ward, and Annalee (Sissy) Bond.

Gary made his first commissioned sale in 1945, when
he was 10 years old. He had made six decoys for his
family's use with skills learned from his dad and grandfather and was asked to make a dozen more for a State Police Captain named Smith. They sold for $36.00 a dozen. By his teenage years, his flat-bottomed decoys sold for $78.00. Today his working decoys fetch $1,200.00 a pair.

Gary has strong ties to his Mullica River ancestors who settled there in 1637. He has always lived on property that has been in his family for over 370 years. Not many people in America can boast of that, and boast of that he does - and often - in his colorful story-telling sessions.

Combining his talent for oral tradition with his carving skills, Gary performs popular carving demonstrations before throngs of people.


He started demonstrating on a regular basis in 1962 at The Historic Town of Smithville, New Jersey.

Then from 1974 to 1977 at The Old Village at Smithville where he met his wife, Niki, who was demonstrating spinning and weaving.

In 1978, he was asked to become a regular at Wheaton Village in Millville, New Jersey. It was here that Gary received his first presidential commission through Governor Brendan Byrne for President Jimmy Carter.

  


He left Wheaton Village in 1978 to return to help Fred and Ethel Noyes, who had first introduced him to the public at their Historic Smithville Inn. He and Niki were asked to help them establish a decoy museum in Southern New Jersey.

Fred Noyes had accumulated one of the largest collections of antique decoys ever put together - over forty-three-hundred decoys.

Ethel Noyes passed on while plans were in progress and Fred was devastated. After grieving, he decided to build more than just a Decoy Museum. He would incorporate his decoy collection into a full Art Museum. To establish a place for local New Jersey artists, young and older, to display their skills. Gary and Niki were given the tasks of photographing, measuring, and cataloging the massive decoy collection.

During this immense undertaking, Gary's artistic eye identified and remembered the unique characteristics of so many different carver's work.

He studied all the books, visited all the major decoy collections around the country, and made many friends. His friendships with these knowledgable people helped him in his daily chores at The Noyes Museum.

He became a close personal friend of one of the decoy world's most knowledgable persons, Bud Ward, of Oceanside, Long Island, New York. Both Bud and Gary loved decoys but especially shorebird and snipe decoys. They spent hours identifying shorebird decoys from Fred's collection of over eight hundred of them. Then off to Long Island to study Ward's collection of over three hundred snipe decoy stools.

Fred again wanted to showcase Gary's skills and allowed him a free hand to create a demonstrating studio in the middle of the museum with a behind-the-scenes workshop and office to continue to enhance his decoy knowledge.

In 1982, Gary was borrowed from his museum tasks, along with his lifelong friend, Harry V. Shourd III, renowned New Jersey carver and family historian, to demonstrate decoy carving as guests of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Here Gary was sought out by a CNN producer and, being at the right place at the right time, became the first person to be televised demonstrating decoy carving - LIVE - around the world as CNN's guest on their premier show.

Other appearances include:

  • New Jersey Folk Festival Rutgers/Douglas College, New Brunswick, NJ
  • Stockton College, Galloway Township, NJ
  • Museum of American Folk Art, NYC, NY
  • Donald E. Palmer Museum,Springfield, NJ
  • Wtitle Whitman Auditorium, Camden, NJ
  • Newark Art Museum, Newark, NJ
  • Easton Waterfowl Festival, Easton, Maryland
  • Tuckerton Seaport, Tuckerton, NJ
  • and as a guest on Captain Noah and His Magical Ark, WPVI TV, Philadelphia, PA, and ABC TV's 1976 Bicentennial program

As a demonstrating Master Decoy Carver, Gary received much exposure and press. Many celebrities purchased his works and prominent customers have commissioned carvings for other famous people including:

  • Ethel Noyes for Zero Mostell, Victor Borga, Ben Vereen, & Ethel Merman
  • Ambassador William Hughes to Jimmy Stewart
  • The American Broadcasting Company to Robert Young
  • New Jersey Governor Christy Todd Whitman to George W. Bush

     


Gary sold directly to comedian Jack Carter, collectors Mr. and Mrs. David Schlapfer, and
Irwin and Judith Nudelman, Sesame Street's "Bob" McGrath, and renowned author, motion picture producer, and amateur radio friend,
Jean Shepherd.  

He presented a figurehead of Gabriel blowing a trumpet to Captain & Mrs. Noah (W. Carter & Pat Merbreier) which became a part of the children's television program's set and gifted Connie Francis with a small shorebird.

Gary's work is part of the permanent collections of The Smithsonian in Washington, Wheaton Village Museum in Millville, New Jersey, the Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, the Noyes Museum, and the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, as well as among prized private collections of folk art and artistic wood sculpture.


His life story has been used by students for Folk Art dissertations in many New Jersey Colleges. He is mentioned in many books regarding his historical background and artistic skills.

He also authored the chapter on New Jersey Decoys for Joe Engers' The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys.

In 2002, Gary was presented with
The Hurley Conklin Award
for
"living his life in the Barnegat Bay tradition"
in recognition of his achievements
as a decoy carver.

Gary and Niki continue to teach from their studios at Swan Bay Folk Art Center.

Some of Gary's former students include Brian Hartmann, John Fish, George Elmer, the Renaldo brothers, Archie, Walt, Nick, and Vince, and Malcolm Robinson, who now demonstrates at Tuckerton Seaport.

Excerpts from Gary's life are astonishing and he can hold the interest of folks for hours recounting them. He was named, "The Greatest Carver In The Country, but not very well known in the City", but somehow he is quoted often as being "The Luckiest Person Born!"    How true!



My hobby became my profession. My profession became my hobby.
Gary Giberson, 2006