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Large Bluebill Pair
Kingston Penitentiary (1835-2013)
Kingston, Ontario c.1920's



"There is an admirable jail here, well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated, in every respect. The men were employed as shoemakers, ropemakers, blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, and stonecutters." - Charles Dickens, 'American Notes' 1842


For nearly a century inmates at the Kingston Pen had access to a wood working shop where among other things, they crafted cheap decoys for regional use as a source of income.  Their varied workers over the decades produced a wide variety of decoys.  Later on, the inmates were brought Nichol decoys by folks who wanted a cheaper version.  Ironically Nichol would end up painting many of these carved blocks.  In confinement, many of their decoys produced a folky appearance, far removed from what the physical duck actually looked like.


This pair is massive, unlike the more petite Nichol decoys, though the carver clearly took inspiration from Nichol decoys.  With Kingston's relative location to Lake Ontario it is highly probable these were specifically requested to be made in this way entirely for use on the rough open waters of Lake Ontario or the outlet to the St. Lawrence.  The pair may have been sent to the Smith Falls area for paint but it's more likely that they were painted by an inmate replicating Nichol paint.


They have glass eyes, with bulky features including a thick tail, neck, and detailed bill which made them less susceptible to breaking in rough use.  The deep relief carved wings, turned heads, and scratch feather paint add personality to the carvings.  The hen bears a unique rigging system that the rigmate drake also had at one point.  It is difficult to say if this concept was created by partner inmates.


Condition:  Original with light gunning wear to include shot marks and paint rubs.  Tight check near the base of the hens neck


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Bluebill Pair - Kingston Penitentiary


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