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Decoys take center stage for Washington weekend

By By DAN PARSONS, Staff Writer
Beatrice Berle traded a pair of fishing poles for her first pair of mallard decoys in her small shop in Duck she opened in 1974.
For the past 12 years Berle has made the trek from Corolla to Washington to set up shop at the East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival. This year is no exception. Setting up her booth in the Washington Civic Center Friday afternoon, Berle said she always loved ducks, even before she began buying, selling and trading them at various festivals on the east coast.
But, her Duck shop didn’t always cater to the duck lover. Before Berle became a decoy vendor, she said locals would come to trade all sorts of things with her. A carver with a pair of mallards changed all that.
On the other side of town, at the Red Men’s Lodge, it falls partially to Joann Sullivan to help decide which decoy carvers would meet Berle’s standards. As co-chair of the North Carolina Decoy Carving Championships, Sullivan manages the process which will decide the winners of this year’s competition, which begins at 10 a.m. today.
Sullivan, a Washington resident, has helped with the carving competition every year Washington has hosted the festival, but she admits the myriad species of waterfowl sometimes stump her even after 13 years.
She leaves the identification to her co-chair, John Elliot, also a Washington resident. Elliot is a decoy carver who got Sullivan involved to run the actual competition.
The entries for the carving contest were just beginning to come in midday Friday, with 13 boxes of entries arrived from California, Ohio, Minnesota and other states. In previous years carvings have been mailed from as far away as England and Mexico, she said.
New to the carving competition this year are the International Wildfowl Carvers Association Canvas World Championships.
Decoys are judged in 13 divisions with more than $13,000 in prize money up for grabs. Judging will continue from 10 a.m. through the day both today and Sunday.
Also new to the competition this year is the contemporary-antique division. In that competition, carvers are challenged with creating new decoys that look like old, used hunting decoys. One shorebird already entered in the competition Friday afternoon was carved from a weathered piece of driftwood.
With such variety to the art of decoy carving, Berle said prospective buyers often come to her looking for the perfect size and shape.