Located on the river about half-way between Chicago and St. Louis, Peoria is the oldest European settlement in Illinois. Preceding the Migratory Bird Treaty Act market hunting thrived. Its history is seeped in Mississippi Flyway waterfowl hunting history as expressed by some of the most collectible decoys on earth. Zac Zetterburg, Curator of Art and the Center for American Decoys, Peoria Riverfront Museum, discusses the region’s history and legendary carvers, explaining along the way how carvings intended for hunting became collectible folk art.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, today I am in Peoria, Illinois, at the Peoria Riverfront Museum overlooking the Illinois River. What an amazing museum. What brought me here today is their American decoy collection. And you all better believe that the Illinois River bottom is deep in waterfowl history and decoys. Joining me today is the curator of art and the center for American decoys here at the Riverfront Museum, Mr. Zac Zetterburg. Zac, how the heck are you, man?
Zac Zetterburg: I’m great, Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Well, thanks for seeing us so early this morning. Now, ordinarily this time of year on a beautiful morning like this morning, we would be out duck hunting, not walking around decoy museums, but the waterfowl for the last few days have really been hitting the area I’m hunting in the afternoons, so we’ve transitioned, hey, got to do what the ducks want to do. If they want to play in the afternoons, we got to go play in the afternoons. But I’m proud to be here and I really appreciate you letting us in and giving us a tour of the waterfowl part of this museum. This museum is much bigger than I was expecting.
Zac Zetterburg: Oh, yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Talk just a little bit about what the overall museum is.
Zac Zetterburg: Absolutely. So actually, the Peoria Riverfront Museum used to be Lakeview Museum. It was sort of in the center of the city, we moved downtown and we’re about to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, right here in this new building?
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: That’s fantastic.
Zac Zetterburg: We are a museum of art, science, history and achievement, really the only of its kind to have those 4 pillars. So it’s really unique that we get to have an exhibit. Like right now, we have an exhibit on Mars, we have an Opera exhibit and we have a decoy exhibit in the same gallery space. So it’s really diverse, a lot happening here, we have a planetarium, we have a giant screen theater and we’ve got a great student program that brings students in from our local schools, every day there’s hundreds of kids in the museum getting exposed to all these different pillars of what we’re about. So they learn a lot about a lot of things every day.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What is your background? Where are you from?
Zac Zetterburg: So I originally grew up in Peking, moved to Peoria, Illinois and my background is in art and I got a degree in art and painting, drawing and sculpture and after school, I started teaching at the university level and then started working as a carpenter on the side. So I have some skills that I can use my hands and build things and that’s what got my foot in the door here at the museum. So apart from being the curator of art and the center for American decoys, I also help install the exhibitions and make them look the way they do.
Ramsey Russell: It’s so interesting to me talking to someone like yourself, an artist, an art major, an art curator about something like decoys. A piece of wood that was carved and painted to lure wild ducks nearer to hunters to shoot. Recently, I was over Havre de Grace up in that area, up around Chesapeake Bay and so many fabled American waterfowl carvers and they were watermen, they were connected just to the ducks, to the oysters, to the crabs, to life. And at the time, back in the day, they sold their decoys for just nothing, $5. The Ward brothers were selling their decoys to a local hardware store for $5 who was selling them for $10 and now they’re 6 figure decoys, if they’re in great shape and it’s just curious to me. Like, we met a gentleman up here, a local carver that came by to look at the museum while we were up there looking, he’s like, well, I’m just an amateur and I said, that’s what all these guys were back when they were just carving decoys and throwing them in boats and taking them out to go kill ducks, they didn’t regard it as art.
Zac Zetterburg: All those carvers that are up in the gallery, notably the Eliiston’s, the Perdew’s, the Schoenheider, Charles Walker, those are some of the top names of the Illinois River Valley that still exist today, because a lot of them don’t exist anymore. They carved to survive at the time, but then there was also a need for great decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Duck hunting was kind of a big deal right here.
Zac Zetterburg: It was a huge deal, a huge deal.
Ramsey Russell: When we walked in from the parking garage, one of the first displays we looked at on the walk up, it was the GN Portman Company. And I mean, just for a little hunting store in downtown Peoria, that’s quite a display you’ve got. Who were they and what was the significance? And when were they around and who were so?
Gustav Portman’s Legacy: Tracing the Legacy of Gustav Portman, an Immigrant who Founded a Business in Peoria.
Gustav Portman, immigrated here, came straight to Peoria and started the business. He knew there was a demand for goods of all kinds, but this was mostly things for sporting hunters.
Zac Zetterburg: Well, there was a gentleman, Gustav Portman, immigrated here, came straight to Peoria and started the business. He knew there was a demand for goods of all kinds, but this was mostly things for sporting hunters, a lot of guns and local carvers sold their carvings at his store, this was at the turn of the century, so 1890s into about 1950, I think the store closed. So right now, the store would have been a block and a half away from the museum.
Ramsey Russell: It was interesting looking at some of their old ads and some of their catalog photos and stuff old wax cotton coats, old pump shot guns, lead shells, the decoys and in that display was a particular mallard decoy, looked like a full body decoy today, except it had a cast iron foot, hand painted wood, beautiful old stately mallard decoy with a cast iron foot. Talk about that decoy just a little bit.
Zac Zetterburg: For sure. The carver who made that decoy, Charles Schoenheider senior is probably one of the most recognized Illinois River carvers and he was carving right here in Peoria, Illinois. And he made some really iconic decoys, but those standing ice ducks and standing geese are probably known across the country for their uniqueness. They’re standing on this one metal leg and the story goes that a hunter would heat up that metal foot, stick it in the ice, the ice would melt and then freeze back over and the duck would stand up.
Ramsey Russell: How many mallard versions of that exist today? I’ve never seen anything like it.
Zac Zetterburg: There’s not many. I know there’s probably more than a few, the standing goose that you saw in the exhibit, there’s only 10 of those that exist. I don’t know the amount of mallards that exist. I know, in that condition, not many.
Ramsey Russell: I read a story about that goose, I heard you say and describe it as one of the most important decoys in you all’s collection. Why? And what’s the story and providence of that decoy? Because I thought it was a pretty interesting story how that decoy ended up here instead of where it was originally intended.
Zac Zetterburg: So for us in Peoria, because Charles Schoenheider was a Peorian and now that decoy, that standing goose is on display in museums across the country because there are 10 of them, several of them are in museums, one is at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont that holds one of the greatest museum decoy collections in the country from the collection of Joel Barber. And we have a close relationship with the Shelburne, they have a great folk art collection and it was really, I think, an inspiration for our folk art collection many years ago. But that Schoenheider is just so unique, when you look at the overall artistry of the decoys made by these carvers during this era. I mean for it to sit on this one leg, it’s a beautiful design, everything about it is appealing and it’s connected right here to Peoria. And if Peoria is going to own anything, it should be our waterfowl history, because some of the greatest artists, whoever made these birds, made them right here.
Ramsey Russell: We stopped for breakfast on the way down the museum this morning in Henry, great little greasy spoon, wonderful omelets, fried eggs, no grits in this part of the world, it was hash browns, no grits. But my host said Perdew’s house and museum is just a mile from here, let’s go take a look. And to be such an iconic artist, you would call him, decoy carver, I would call him, just a modest little house overlooking the river himself, made out of stones. And who was Perdew? And how much can you tell me about the artist Perdew in his home?
Zac Zetterburg: Sure. So Perdew is a great figure and a character in this big story of the Illinois River Decoy School. Perdew moved to Henry and made it his home, he built that house. So the stones that you saw in the house, he hauled up from the river and placed them into the house.
Ramsey Russell: How did he get into decoy carving?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, it was really all about survival. He was a market hunter, so he was out shooting, he needed decoys, he made his own early decoys, he was making 3 piece decoys in the 1920s.
Ramsey Russell: What do you mean 3 piece decoys?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, the Illinois River style decoy is really a 2 piece decoy, that’s hollowed out on the inside and the two pieces are put together to make the body and then the head is placed on top.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Zac Zetterburg: So he’s got some early versions that are actually a 3 piece because he’s trying to figure out how to make the best decoy he can. They’re really like little boats and they need to work like, you don’t want your decoy tipping over in the water. So there’s a lot of stylistic things that happened early on, these guys are trying to figure out how to engineer these really to be the best decoys that they could make and they were passionate about what they made, but they didn’t make much money. Most of these guys, if not almost every one of them, died broke.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. They were just simple people.
Zac Zetterburg: Just simple people making great things.
Ramsey Russell: Well, even when you were talking about the Canada goose decoy with the iron foot, I read something upstairs, it was talking about somebody commissioned those decoys for their hunting rig and the man wanted just $100, $120. Now, I ain’t paying that much.
Zac Zetterburg: That’s exactly what happened.
Ramsey Russell: Can you elaborate on that story?
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah. A guy named Daniel Voorhees commissioned Schoenheider make a rig of geese, he’d never made a goose before and so he made 10 standing geese and 2 floating geese, it took him a year to make them and then he went to deliver them to Mr. Voorhees, upon delivery, he wanted $125 for 12 full size, hand carved, wooden, hand painted decoys, $10 apiece. And Mr. Voorhees says, it’s too much, I don’t want them, no, thank you. So Schoenheider took them back to his house and they sat in his attic for almost 40 years and then they were discovered. And now those decoys are bringing a lot more than 10 more dollars.
Ramsey Russell: You had to guess, what are they bringing?
Zac Zetterburg: I think one recently sold for like, $160,000 some of them sold for over $200,000.
Ramsey Russell: That old boy is rolling in his grave right now for not buying those decoys.
Zac Zetterburg: Yes.
Ramsey Russell: When you talk about Perdew, get back on him just a little bit, he was a simple man, he was a market hunter. So initially, he started carving decoys for himself, when do you think he started carving decoys commercially? When did that era of his carving begin?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, I should bring up the fact that Charlie and his wife Edna, they’re a team and this is really special for Illinois River, because there are several of these stories where it’s a husband and wife team, but Charlie and Edna in particular, they were carving on a full time by the turn of the century, I think, definitely by 1920, they probably have more orders than they can keep up with.
Ramsey Russell: And that would have been just the era of sports, probably folks coming from out of Chicago down here to a lot of these big clubs in the valley just needed more decoys.
Zac Zetterburg: Once in 1918 with the Migratory Bird Act and more sporting hunters started coming down here and establishing clubs, the demand for high quality, alluring decoys skyrocketed and Perdew was the go to guy. And so he made a living, nothing excessive, but he was an eccentric guy. I mean, I think he really –
Ramsey Russell: Like how so? Give me some stories. I like eccentricity.
Collaboration with Edna: Recognize the collaborative effort between Perdew and his wife Edna, emphasizing her role in painting the decoys
He’d give ladies a ride around town and his wife Edna was at home, he would carve the birds, she would paint them.
Zac Zetterburg: Perdew did move up to Chicago, he worked in a meat packing plant and he went to the Art Institute of Chicago. So he had some interest in art, I don’t know if he finished his degree, but then he eventually found his way back to Henry, but he made a lot more than just decoys, he fixed bikes, he had a gun shop for a while. He really, I think, tried to use his skills, he had skills of fixing almost anything. So decoys was a way that he figured out he could make some money and he had a tandem bike that he would ride around town and he’d give ladies a ride around town and his wife Edna was at home, he would carve the birds, she would paint them. So I would say the quality of the decoys, a lot of credit should go to Edna as well, because the quality of the paint is incredible, the carving is incredible, the story of the Perdew’s is incredible. I think the whole package, they made a life on the river, built their own house.
Ramsey Russell: How did she learn? Where was she inspired to paint? Like, paint the mallard, paint the pintail, paint the teal? Was it just because he was a market hunter bringing in those species? Do you know how she would – she observe those dead birds?
Zac Zetterburg: That’s a great question. And it really goes back to this lineage of the earlier carvers. So there was a couple, Robert and Catherine Eliiston and they really are like the grandfather and grandmother of Illinois River decoy carving and so they started this story in a way. There’s some earlier carvers, but they really established the style and Catherine Eliiston established the painting style and Catherine taught Edna how to paint.
Ramsey Russell: See, because that’s one thing about it, is I walked around, there were a lot of different carvers, but they all kind of sort of looked alike. Like on the wings, they put little U’s details, all of them did. They might be subtly different colors, but they all had this style and the way they did vermiculations with a comb or something on the back or on the sides, they all did it. And it’s like I could be anywhere in the world and see a decoy from somewhere in here and I would not know who carved it necessarily, but I would think to myself, that’s from Illinois. There’s no doubt that’s from Illinois and it all started with this original family, you’re talking about, who inspired everybody else. Run through a list of some of the names. I want to talk about who the carvers were. Like, when I think of Illinois, I think of Perdew, that’s who I think of. Somehow or other, he kind of got to be the godfather of it all, he’s to me, one of the most iconic, but he’s not the only one, certainly not the most famous or certainly not. I mean, we’ve talked about Shang and some of these others. Who are some other carvers in the region?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, Perdew is definitely, I think, the most prolific and diverse, he made calls, he made decoys.
Ramsey Russell: He was the most prolific.
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah, He made a lot. And then he’s kind of the end of the story, too before lightweight plastic decoys came into existence. And a lot of the sporting hunters who bought Perdew decoys, a lot of them still exist today, they were taken care of, they weren’t used by market hunters, so to speak. So a lot of these still exist and that’s probably why his name lives on as maybe the name you would think of when you try and identify an Illinois River decoy. But for other carvers from this area, I mean, there were hundreds of carvers that were working in Pekin this area produced too many to list. But some of the earliest carvers there’s in the Laken area, which is not far from us, there’s a guy named Henry Ruggles was carving early, a guy named Stephen Lane and these predate the Eliiston, but right around the same time, 1880s is when a lot of this decoy production started. And the Eliiston are definitely a name from Bureau, Illinois and Charles Walker is another name, he carved exclusively for the Princeton Game and Fish Club and Burt Graves.
Ramsey Russell: Burt Graves. He’s one of my favorite, I noticed when I was up there walking around, he’s got a massive oversized decoy with a flat back.
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah, those are beautiful.
Ramsey Russell: Somebody asked. They said, why do you think it’s flat? I said, probably so it covers more surface area where ducks can see it, that would be my guess.
Zac Zetterburg: That’s a good guess. I would think that might be the answer.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Zac Zetterburg: So Graves came out of the Ellison School because Catherine Eliiston also painted Burke Graves’s decoys. It really was a small family.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a small community.
Zac Zetterburg: Yes. Burke Graves’ workshop was right down the street from the museum.
Ramsey Russell: It’s got to be a spot on a timeline, it didn’t just happen over a period of decades, it’s like, it must have been a lot more sudden than that. But when did decoys cease being, when did these decoys cease being functional tools and become art?
Zac Zetterburg: That’s a great story that starts with a guy named Joel Barber, who was an architect from New York City and he was probably the first guy that went around collected decoys, not for any hunting purpose, but to show as a sculptural art form. He was a cure.
Ramsey Russell: What was his background? Art or Architect?
Zac Zetterburg: He was like a modernist architect.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Shelburne Museum Collection: The Shelburne Museum in Vermont and its possession of the Joel Barber collection.
When I talked about the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, they hold the Joel Barber collection. And he’s the beginning of the story of the decoy as art, as sculpture
Zac Zetterburg: Did not hunt. He actually, later in his life tried to implement the use of decoys in sophisticated garden designs, but he really appreciated the sculptural value and how diverse all these birds were made up and down the East Coast. And when I talked about the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, they hold the Joel Barber collection. And he’s the beginning of the story of the decoy as art, as sculpture, as something you would put in your house as, like, a showpiece.
Ramsey Russell: When did that happen? When did he begin that and what year?
Zac Zetterburg: I believe that’s in as early as the 1930s.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Ramsey Russell: I heard an interesting story the other night that, of course, decoy is a dime a dozen around here, you had all these carvers selling them for $5, $10 whatever, trying to make a living. But they were all market hunters, Perdew was a market hunter until the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918 thereabouts, boom. 1929 about a decade later, the world is thrown into a Great Depression and conservation be damn, a man’s got to, so folks just went and ate. I mean, they were shooting wildlife to eat. But I heard a story that during the depression in the wintertime it got cold up here in Illinois, a lot of those decoys got burned as firewood. Have you ever heard those stories?
Zac Zetterburg: I have. A close friend of ours, Randy told me quite a few stories about piles of decoys that his friends have told him about thrown in the furnace.
Ramsey Russell: I want to say somebody in one of these camps were telling me that probably after plastic came along that the club would just throwing them in a pot belly stove, throwing them in a fireplace to keep the fire going.
Zac Zetterburg: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: All these old, golly, millions of dollars up the chimney, that’s crazy, isn’t it?
Zac Zetterburg: It is. It’d be interesting to know if that didn’t happen, if they would be as valuable as they are now because the rarity is part of it. Some of the examples we have upstairs are the only examples that exist in that quality.
Ramsey Russell: Who makes the most valuable Illinois River decoys in terms of that rarity, that fine gem? Are they all pretty much equally valued?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, there’s a list, like kind of the names, many of the names I described before are on that list of a great early Eliiston in original paint, they’re just so rare. And I think Eliiston probably brings quite a bit and Schoenheider and Graves. The Illinois River does not bring as much as maybe the most legendary carver in history whose name is Elmer Crowell.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, yeah. From Massachusetts.
Zac Zetterburg: From Massachusetts.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder why? Is it just so much more rare?
Zac Zetterburg: I don’t think the rarity, I think the artistry, the story, I mean, it’s a totally different story.
Ramsey Russell: Some of his decoys are going for how much? What’s the most expensive decoy you’ve ever heard of auctioned?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, there was merganser that was made by Lothrop Homes that I think is the single most expensive decoy ever sold that sold for over $800,000.
Ramsey Russell: Over $800,000. I heard a story, unconfirmed, that somebody went out and knocked on the door of whoever owned Elmer Crowell’s shop where he made all these decoys and wanted to buy it, make it a museum and do something with it. And the lady that answered the door, huh? Well, we threw a lot of that stuff away and cleaned it. It’s like she went back there and said all that dust and all this junk, all these patterns and so much of his stuff had been just tossed out to the rubbish pile because had to make room for whatever she was doing with it, just treasure gone. Can you imagine? And they said she was catonic, she’s like upset the prospect of what that must have been worth.
Zac Zetterburg: She would be upset.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Can you imagine?
Zac Zetterburg: I can’t imagine. Here at the museum, I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of a great little family of people that have kept this history alive for the past 50 years. We had an exhibit in 2019 and that book in front of you is a record of that. And I was able to work with the guy, a couple, Ted and Judy Harmon from Long Island and they have an incredible collection of Elmer Crowell decoys and an incredible collection of decoys from the East Coast. And the list goes on and on as far as the people that have helped us generate interest in keeping this history alive here in Peoria, it’s been a really spectacular last 4 or 5 years for us.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of the distinctive features and style of an Illinois River decoy versus other parts of the US? How would you characterize them?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, the water here or the hunting conditions is a lot different. We’re shallow, backwater hunting, a lot different than hunting on the Chesapeake Bay.
Ramsey Russell: Right. Flat bottoms, need more of a flat bottom here.
Illinois River Decoy Heritage: Rich heritage of Illinois River decoys.
They’re not big and heavy, they’re actually 2 piece and hollowed out to make them lightweight, the water conditions aren’t super rough around here.
Zac Zetterburg: Well, so the Illinois River decoys are kind of a V shape bottom, like a boat and they have a little lead keel. The bodies are actually relatively 2 scale of a duck, they’re not, like, oversized, they’re not big and heavy, they’re actually 2 piece and hollowed out to make them lightweight, the water conditions aren’t super rough around here, I guess it depends on the day, but for the most part, we make a smaller style V shaped decoy.
Ramsey Russell: Mallard seems to be one of the predominant species because that would have been one of the predominant birds they were hunting here. I saw a few green wings, a few blue wings, a few pintails.
Zac Zetterburg: Canvasback.
Ramsey Russell: Canvasback, a few blue bills, that’s about it. I may probably a few black ducks around.
Zac Zetterburg: A few, what they call confidence decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. What would those have been?
Zac Zetterburg: So we have one upstairs right now, that’s one of my favorites in the room. Schoenheider made a merganser confidence decoy. So they just made the spread look more realistic, it wasn’t because they wanted merganser to come down to shoot, because I don’t think it’s really a desirable bird to eat around here if you had your choice for a mallard and a merganser.
Ramsey Russell: But I did see a pair of Perdew robins.
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And I know from meeting with folks, especially down in Louisiana, some of those game warden people ate robins. I stumbled on a robin decoy more contemporary than that, way back when the internet was invented on eBay and I wish I’d bought it, it wasn’t terribly expensive, it was $70 or $80 and had a little tack eye, like an upholstery tack for an eye and it had BB holes in it. It was a working robin decoy and I wish I had it, I’m sure they ate them, although that may have been a little more decorative, that looked like a decorative decoy, but they did hunt robins back in the day.
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah, that pair that you saw up there is a later decorative carving by Perdew and probably one of maybe 2 robin pairs that exist, that was a way to supplement income as well.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you were saying earlier that, okay, now market hunter all around started selling to clubs, to sports, in comes later, maybe in the 60s, maybe in the 50s, 60s, here come plastics, then what? What happened to the Illinois River decoy carving culture with the advent of plastics?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, everything changed because you got a lot more, I guess it came down to those guys who were passionate about continuing to work in the old way with wood, did continue, but a lot of them didn’t because they couldn’t survive. They had to figure out how to make a living. So I think a lot of those carvers, we probably would have had a lot of more great carvers, but with the institution of changing everything over to more economical and lightweight, plastics changed everything. And it really makes you appreciate the artistry of what these guys were able to do and the time they took to make these out of wood, it’s just really unbelievable.
Ramsey Russell: And all these years later, I hunt over plastic, I hunt over the foam, I hunt over cork and wood. And it’s interesting what I see, especially around the country, is how in the modern era of waterfowling, we have all these cheap plastics, all this made in China stuff, all this convenience, all this one click, is that my doorstep tomorrow? How a lot of us, as we get older, start gravitating back more towards a very traditional and conventional foundation just not for the practicality, there’s nothing practical about taking cork and wood decoys out to hunt with, but there’s something profoundly enjoyable about it. There’s something really satisfying about hunting over a piece of modern art, let alone old art. And I’ve got a friend out in North Dakota that’s got a massive collection of cork and primarily wood decoys that he “Soaks” it’s got to be a $10,000 spread, swans and geese and canvasbacks and divers, he targets divers and he’s floating out in front of his blind, all wooden decoys. And it’s not about how many can I kill and pile up for Instagram, it’s about sitting over and admiring that art as it was intended to be used, floating in that water.
Zac Zetterburg: It’s still happening today. There are several carvers make their own rigs and I know very few that make rigs for others, there’s some guys keep in good condition –
Ramsey Russell: Self enjoyment.
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah, it’s all part of it.
Ramsey Russell: We came in, we walk up towards the museum, you all got this old clock in the stairwell and it came off of like a courthouse tower.
Zac Zetterburg: Yeah, it was one of the iterations of the courthouse.
Ramsey Russell: It’s that pendulum swinging with each tick, the pendulum swings, cultural value swing. You had one time, everybody making wood just for tools to market hunt transitioned into a functional art for sports to go out and kill their ducks, become an artistic form, a collectible to where now people are starting, a lot of us are starting to gravitate back at times when we can over something just a little more set back in time to enjoy the morning for what it is and the way it should be in my opinion, I’m an old guy. And it brings up a good topic. Last topic I want to explore with you, your collection up here exists because of a lot of people, a lot of donors, a lot of collectors have donated or put on loan as consignments. You read the signs, who was donated from or who –
Zac Zetterburg: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: And when you start getting in the world of art, go buy a Rembrandt today, it’s probably going to be worth a lot more money when your grandkids have it. I mean, there is a value, a monetary value, but it’s beyond that, I think for a lot of the people that are contributors to this art gallery up here, this decoy, what do you think? I’m not asking for names of these collectors, I’m asking, you’ve had a lot of conversations, you’ve got a lot of relationship with them, what do you think those decoys that they’ve amassed and collected or been given through generations, what do you think it means to them, beyond dollars and cents?
Zac Zetterburg: Well, for most of the collectors I work with, it reminds them of a time when they hunted with their grandfather.
Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.
Zac Zetterburg: When probably the height of enjoyment of hunting to be with a significant family member and to go out for the morning and just like you said, spend the morning as it should be and let it be. I was raised in Peking, my grandfather fished a lot, we didn’t do a lot of duck hunting, we ended up doing some goose hunting, quite a bit of goose hunting. But those long days spent with my grandfather not catching anything are some of the best moments I can remember growing up around here. We got a lot of great fishing spots and places to hunt, but even though we didn’t catch many fish or maybe shoot any geese that day, it was a fun day and those were the days that I remember.
Ramsey Russell: That’s the way it should be. I think a lot of people, that’s how it relates to them. But if you get back to the art side, whether it’s decoys or Rembrandt paintings or whatever, it’s the kind of thing that it does appreciate in value, but you get to look at it and enjoy it. It’s just like a lot of guys that buy recreational properties, it’ll go up in value, but meanwhile, instead of being a stock or a bond or a number on a spreadsheet, something you can put your foot on and walk and enjoy and touch and hold and think –
Zac Zetterburg: Culturally significant to this place and the people that live here and what our history is, it’s all in a big part of us on the river and the story of us as Peoria, Illinois and central Illinois.
Ramsey Russell: The story of Peoria, Illinois and the Illinois River Valley is embodied in a wooden decoy from here, isn’t it?
Zac Zetterburg: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: I appreciate you, Zac, I really do. Thank you for the tour, thank you for the time this morning. And folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, you’ve been listening to Zac Zetterberg, curator of the Art and center of American decoys here in Peoria Riverfront Museum. If you’re anywhere nearby, if you’re passing through, trust you me, it’s worth the stop. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.
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