Don't miss Bill on "Good Morning America" on Sunday March 11th 2007!

Take 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 for more information.

National Magazine Honors Area Craftsperson

April 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.

The 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.

"The 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.

One 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.

The 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.

"The 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, visit  

August 10, 2001 article appeared in The Hingham Journal

Hingham decoy carver among best in country


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 settlers.

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 for $625,000.

But, Sarni laments, " for a decoy to be valuable... you have to die. "

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.

Common ground.
Where the river meets the sea: One man's room with a view

By 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 World's End.

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 stem erosion.

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 into traps.

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 on ponds.

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 fondly.

Inspired 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.