miss Bill on "Good Morning America" on Sunday March 11th 2007!
a Class with Bill in Nantucket. He will be teaching Decoy carving in
Sept 18th 2007. Early American Arts and Crafts at the Nantucket Historical
Association 1800 House.
Visit www.nha.org for more
Magazine Honors Area Craftsperson
2006 — Bill Sarni of Hingham ranks as one of the top traditional
artisans in America, according to a panel of 18 experts convened by
Early American Life magazine. The experts—curators from
such prestigious institutions as Historic Hudson Valley, Old Sturbridge
Village, Rhode Island School of Design, and Shelburne Museum, as well
as antiques dealers, independent scholars, and professional instructors
selected the top craftspeople working with traditional tools and techniques
for the magazine's 21st annual Directory of Traditional American Crafts.
Sarni's hand-crafted traditional style decoys showed mastery of the
art form, heritage techniques, and workmanship, according to the judges.
Directory of Traditional American Crafts is a special listing that appears
in the June 2006 issue of Early American Life, a national magazine
focusing on architecture, decorative arts, period style, and social
history from colonial times through the mid-19th Century. The Directory
has been used for the past two decades by curators at living history
museums, owners of traditional homes, and motion picture producers for
finding artisans to make period-appropriate furnishings and accessories
for displays, collections, and use.
judges look for authentic design and workmanship, whether the piece
is a faithful reproduction or the artisans interpretation of period
style," said Tess Rosch, publisher of Early American Life.
Scholarship, as well as use of period tools and techniques, is particularly
valued in this competition.
goal of the Directory is to help preserve traditional handcrafts, part
of our culture that is rapidly being lost in the digital age. Many of
these skills were passed down from master to apprentice for hundreds
of years, but now few new people choose to learn and master them. "If
our traditional arts are lost, we have forgotten a part of who we are
as Americans," Rosch said.
June issue of Early American Life, on newsstands April 25, lists
all artists selected for the Directory as well as their addresses and
telephone numbers for those wanting to own their work. The Directory
layout features lush color photos of many of these artworks, photographed
aboard the Charles W. Morgan whaling ship—launched in 1841
and the only wooden whaler still in existence and in other museum settings
at Mystic Seaport, The Museum of America and the Sea, in Connecticut.
Directory is a source for collectors and historic museums eager to own
fine, handcrafted, period-accurate objects and also a means of supporting
those who perpetuate the art forms that are such an important part of
our nation's heritage," Rosch said. To learn more about Early
American Life, for subscription information or to purchase a copy,
10, 2001 article appeared in The Hingham Journal
Hingham decoy carver among best in country
By TIM LLEWELLYN
William Sarni is certainly making a name for himself in the world of
folk art. For the second year in a row, Sarni was named one of the top
200 traditional craftsmen in the country by Early American Life magazine,
a national publication influential in defining period style. His work
is featured in an recent book about American folk art titled "
By Hand, " by Janice Eaton Kilby.
"Being a traditional art form, its something that I want to see
carried on, especially in Hingham" Sarni said.
That's because Hingham is no stranger to gifted decoy carvers. At the
turn of the century Hingham produced four exceptional carvers: Joe Lincoln,
Alfred Gardner and two members of the Burr family.
Sarni cites these local artists as his inspiration when he started decoy
carving as a child. Raised in the Accord section of Hingham, Sarni grew
up hunting, camping and fishing.
"We used to sit around the old pot belly stove and talk about the
old gunning stories" the Powers Lane resident said.
These stories and his interest in local wildlife, fueled Sarni's desire
to achieve the accuracy and meticulous detail of the decoys produced
by the masters like Lincoln.
And this recent recognition is unquestionably an impressive validation
of his progress. His inclusion among the top 200 craftsmen in the country
is no small feat. Early American Life magazine received about 700 entry
applications for inclusion. Entries included all types of traditional
folk art, from small hand crafted items to traditionally built furniture.
Although all of these items are classified as " American folk art,
" Sarni considers decoy carving as the only true folk art. He explains
that of all the folk arts, only decoy carving is derived directly from
the Native Americans, the rest of the forms were imported with the European
The process of making a working decoy hasn't changed too much over the
years. Sarni breaks it down into a six-step process. First, he "
roughs out " the general shape of the bird with a large band saw.
From there he works with draw knives, hand knives, wood rasps and sand
paper to fine tune the shape and add realistic detail. Some of Sarni's
decoys are made strictly for decorative use, and these works also include
many hours of detailed painting.
Sarni offers his work for sale, with prices ranging from $50 to $500.
But purchasing one of Sarni's decoys might be more than a savvy decorating
choice, it also might be a lucrative investment. This year a decoy carved
by Elmer Crowell, a turn -of-the-century decoy maker, sold at auction
But, Sarni laments, " for a decoy to be valuable... you have to
Until then, Sarni is going to keep creating more decorative and working
decoys in the folk tradition.
" Hopefully one day people will be talking about me like they talk
about Joe Lincoln", Sarni said.
Sarni is currently the featured artist at Brewed Awakenings in Hingham
Square. His work can also be seen at the Studio At The Beach, at 217
Nantasket Ave. in Hull.
Where the river meets the sea: One man's room with a view
Amy Whorf McGuiggan
Correspondent | May 10, 2001
Bill Sarni needs only to look out his back window to get his creative
juices flowing. Overlooking the Weir River Estuary, near the Hull line,
Bill's backyard is a slice of the coastal Hingham of yesteryear, a wilderness
of salt marsh and mudflats, waterfowl and shorebirds. For Bill, who
spent a Tom Sawyeresque boyhood hunting and fishing along the banks
of Accord Pond in South Hingham, this little swath along the river has
reconnected him to that boyhood and provided him with endless inspiration
for his hand-carved waterfowl and shorebird decoys.
Unnoticed by most passersby, the Weir River begins its journey in the
center of town where Tower Brook, Crooked Meadow River and the Fulling
Mill River converge. Not too far along, the waters of Tripharnmer Pond
spill into the river which then winds its way behind Stoddard and Studley
Roads, under Leavitt, behind East School, under Cushing (Route 3A) and
into Foundry Pond off Kilby Street. The pond, once the site of an ironworks
and now conservation land, was created sometime in the late 18th century
when the Weir was dammed. From Foundry Pond, the Weir continues on the
final leg of its journey under Rockland Street and into the bay near
The Weir River Estuary - where the river meets the sea - is a fragile,
sheltered transition zone. Fresh water commingles with the briny tidal
waters of the bay to form a brackish mix, less salty than seawater,
but saltier than upstream water, largely rainwater runoff. Plants and
animals that can adapt to the effects of tidal currents and the changing
salinity flourish in the nutrient-rich estuary.
Estuarine environments, often referred to as "nurseries of the
sea," are among the most productive ecosystems on earth, annually
producing up to 10 tons of organic matter for every acre and providing
habitat for more than 75 percent of the country's commercial fish catch.
The thick estuarine soup of detritus fosters a diverse habitat and complex
food web on which mammals, fish, crustaceans, birds and other wildlife
depend. Humans, too, depend on estuaries and their surrounding salt
marshes, not only for our food resources that begin life there, but
also to filter pollutants from the water, to absorb storm surges and
From his room with a view, Bill watches the daily pageant of wildfowl
and shorebirds in the estuary. Wood ducks, herons, yellow legs, plovers,
buffleheads, mergansers and goldeneyes are just some of the birds whose
numbers have been increasing as coastal waters are better taken care
of and programs to restore habitats - such as nesting box construction
programs - are implemented. Still, bird populations are not what they
used to be, not what they were earlier in American history when tens
of millions of shorebirds and waterfowl in thick flocks stopped over
in estuaries like that of the Weir.
In that abundance - an apparently inexhaustible supply - market hunters
saw opportunity. To lure the birds within reach of their guns, hunters
set about to improve upon the rudimentary decoys made of stuffed animal
skins and saltmarsh reeds that Native Americans had used to lure birds
Hunters carved decoys out of native woods, pine and spruce mostly, their
earliest decoys little more than crudely shaped blocks. But as the market
for birds - for the table, for the millinery trade and as trophies -
became more and more lucrative, decoys became more and more sophisticated,
carved and painted with precision and detail to resemble particular
birds and strung together in long "rigs" of 100 or more decoys
to attract more and more birds. Hunters also closely studied bird behavior
and habit so as to more effectively set out their rigs of "floaters"
and "stick-ups" in enticing configurations in marshes and
The unrestricted and unregulated market gunning of the 19th century,
as well as destruction of wetlands and habitats, eventually took their
toll on bird populations. By the turn of the 20th century, with many
bird species near extinction and many more threatened, voices, including
those of sportsmen, were being raised in defense of birds and the preservation
of habitats. By 1905, laws protecting non-game birds had been adopted
by many states. Legislation ending the market hunting of migratory waterfowl
and shorebirds followed in 1918 and by 1928 all shorebirds were protected
by federal law.
As the commercial hunting of birds passed into history, so too did the
making of decoys. Though never in their day considered an "art,"
form, many decoys were, nonetheless, made by skilled artisans who left
their stylistic signature on every piece. Working decoys - particularly
working shorebird decoys which were no longer made after 1918 - became
sought after by collectors of early American folk art as tangible reminders
of a bygone time.
Bill first caught the decoy-carving bug during his teen years after
hearing stories about Accord's own well-known carver, Joe Lincoln. Known
primarily for his Canada goose decoys, Joe Lincoln (1859-1938), along
with his brother-in-law Alfred Gardner, operated two geese gunning clubs
on Accord Pond. Both clubs were gone by Bill's teen years, burned to
the ground sometime in the early 1950s, but at Charlie Thomas' gun shop
just up the road in Norwell, where Bill was a regular customer, the
talk by the old-timers sitting around the pot-bellied stove was still
all about hunting and decoys. Accord Pond, now Hingham's water supply,
was still a popular sport gunning area, especially for Canada geese,
and the neighborhood around the pond - little more than a restaurant,
gas station, drugstore and post office - had the quiet charm of a New
England village. It was a time in Hingham on which Bill looks back on
by Lincoln's elegant and sleek creations which Bill had begun to collect,
and by memories of the shoptalk at Charlie Thomas', Bill finally tried
his hand at carving in 1969. Disappointed with his first effort, a mallard
carved from spruce, he set aside his tools and didn't try again until
the early '80s when he picked up a block of wood and carved a sandpiper.
Happy with the results, he's been carving ever since, preserving in
wood our natural heritage and keeping strong his own ties to the Hingham
of his boyhood. Working in a traditional style, Bill's work is widely
exhibited and he was recently named by Early American Life magazine
as one of the 200 Best Craftsmen in America.
Accord Pond, though still a stopover for migrating geese, no longer
resonates with the sound of shotgun fire. The neighborhood is nothing
of the sleepy village it was half a century ago. But lads still find
their way to the pond's banks to fish for pickerel and catfish and to
hunt for turtles. Birdwatchers and photographers brave the traffic on
Route 228 to fix their lenses on a resting flock or to take in the sunset.
At the other end of town, where the Weir flows under the boulevard,
fishermen steady themselves on the rocky embankment and cast for striped
bass. Small outboards make their way into the salt marsh where terns,
cormorants and hawks wheel overhead, egrets and yellowlegs poke around
in the grasses, sandpipers skitter across the mudflats and mergansers
ride up the creek on the tide.
Though hemmed in by "progress," there are still places in
Hingham that can take us back to a simpler time, places that can inspire
our creativity, places that can help us to better understand the interconnectedness
of all living things.
And for that, we should all be thankful.
To receive free plans for constructing, erecting and maintaining wood
duck and merganser nesting boxes send a SASE to Wood Duck Box Plans,
Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, I Rabbit Hill Road,
Westborough, 01581. If you do not have a suitable wetland habitat for
nesting boxes, boxes can be donated to MassWildlife
Amy Whorf McGuiggan is a freelance writer living in Hingham.