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The following was compiled
from, a Biography of Charles
H. Perdew, written by Don Clark,
and from a interview conducted by
Cay Clark with Mrs. Almira Clark
(wife of the author).
or fifty years Don Clark was a boat
pusher and duck guide for the Swan
Lake Duck Club (just north of Henry,
Illinois). A boat pusher takes the
hunters to the duck blinds, puts out
decoys, and calls the ducks in as they
fly over so they can be shot in flight
as they come into range. Originally
live birds were used as decoys, but
for repeated use and controlled
placement more and more hunters
used wooden decoys. Because of the
keen eye sight of the ducks, the
decoys needed to be as realistic as
possible. Charles H. (Charlie)
Perdew, also of Henry, made decoys
and duck calls for waterfowlers in
Swan Lake and other duck clubs in
the area.
on Clark used Perdew’s decoys
and duck calls and later wrote the
biography of this extraordinary man.
Charles Perdew was born in Putnam
County, Illinois on a farm about three
miles east of Henry, Illinois on April
30, 1874. He and his brothers helped
on the family farm and it was here
that he first ventured into decoy
making. As a boy of fourteen, he
took the side rails off an old rope bed,
cut them up in pieces and threw
them in a fire to char. He then
retrieved the wood, took a drawknife
and cut some of the charring away to
make Bluebill duck decoys. He used
these decoys to shoot ducks near his
home, selling them in the Chicago
market. Little did he know that this
practical endeavor would someday
help turn wooden ducks into
American folk art that would be in
demand by collectors all over the
world.
harles Perdew had many talents
and many paths to follow before he
made a name for himself carving
duck decoys. In 1889 Charlie went to
Chicago, where he worked as a meat
packer and then as a carpenter “to
help put together” the Chicago
Worlds Fair of 1893. He also
attended the Chicago Art Institute to
study painting. Soon after, he left
Chicago and returned to Henry.
Among his seemingly endless
abilities, Charlie punched cattle,
operated a shooting gallery, opened a
bicycle shop, sold and repaired guns,
and built boats. He farmed, hunted,
fished, and trapped. He made his
own wooden false teeth and his own
eyeglasses, and he began again to
make duck decoys. In 1902 Charlie
married Edna Haddon of Henry who
started painting his duck and crow
decoys. Between 1903 – 1909 Charlie
perfected his crow call and patented
it November 2, 1909. Also during
those years he built a new home and
shop across the street from their first
home. Here Charlie and Edna
remained until his death.
ogether the Perdews worked and
watched the decoy business grow. In
1924 Charlie entered a pair of
handmade mallard decoys in a
decoy contest at Abercrombie & Fitch
of New York and won second place
for his craftsmanship. The Perdews
made and sold thousands of decoys
over the years, as many as 300 each
season. But Charlie especially
enjoyed turning out a decoy for a
customer to give for a birthday,
anniversary, or other special
occasion. In the mid 30’s he started
making ornamental decoys;
miniature and half-size decoys and
life size birds of all kinds. Edna
Perdew did all the painting until
1941, when she contracted an illness
that prevented her from painting.
Charlie then carved and painted, but
A decoy at auction could
demand as high as
$125,000
.
Many sell at prices of
$1,500
to
$25,000
Vigoré
C
F
D
C
T
P
St r iking ly
A
MERICAN
Waterfowl Decoys
H
ISTORY,
unique works of
A
RT
and
harles H. erdew