|— Long before there ever was Mojo Duck, Dean Christian of Mankato had a better idea. Way back in 1956, the avid waterfowler and pharmaceutical salesman, hatched an idea for a flapping wind decoy. While the decoy that was equipped with hinged wings and mounted on a fiberglass pole worked, for whatever reason, it never really caught on with hunters. Instead, the molds for the decoys were retooled to permanently affix the wings and then were successfully sold through Christian’s home-based Hunter’s Supply Co. as decorative wall hangings into the early 1960s. That story, along with hundreds of others, are part of Doug Lodermeier’s new book, “Minnesota Duck Decoys — yesterday and today’s folk artists” that went on sale last month. The result is a 700-page book that, with its comprehensive history of some 300 past and present Minnesota decoy makers, undoubtedly will become a reference work for avid decoy collectors hoping to track down the origins of their pieces. But much more than that, it is a wonderfully diverse collection of stories and photographs that anyone with an interest in waterfowling, Americana folk art, or even state history will find entertaining. Ironically, there were initial concerns that there wouldn’t be enough material for a complete book. Lodermeier, who in 2003 authored a book on Minnesota duck call makers, said that unlike some eastern states with a more extensive history of decoy carving, there has never been a school for Minnesota decoy carvers. “The top people in the decoy collecting fraternity were concerned that there might not be enough material,” the Edina resident said. “As it turns out, the book could have been even bigger ... And I’m sure that even more people will be coming out of the woodwork.”||Lodermeier speculated that Minnesota’s varied and extensive decoy carving tradition might be attributed to the idea of making “a better mouse trap” and economic necessity. “Carvers here had divergent styles,” he said. “And it was a pretty hard scrabble life living out here, too. “During the Depression and during the pre-Depression, people probably had more time than money and more than money, there was probably some pride in doing it themselves.” The book documents the handiwork and history of some of Minnesota’s earliest decoy makers dating back to the late 1800s to the present. It also focuses on carvers from historical state waterfowl destinations as Heron Lake and Lake Christina. Decoy makers from Mankato’s past and elsewhere southern Minnesota are well represented. In addition to Christian (who at age 92 still resides in Mankato), Henry “Heine” Thilgen and John “Jack” Theissen, along with sons, Art and Leon, are featured in the book. On a more contemporary note, retired DNR conservation officer Richard Kruger and Dave Jackson, who still practice their art, also are featured. As a partner in L&M Design, a Minneapolis design firm, Lodermeier was able to combine his experience in publishing and design with his interest in decoys to self-publish the book — all 774 pages replete with hundreds of photographs — without costs that certainly would have been imposed by an outside publisher. Perhaps it is a measure of the interest in Minnesota’s rich tradition of waterfowling that less than a month after the first printing of 1,000 copies, only a handful remain with a second printing scheduled. Even at that, Lodermeier isn’t expecting to make much for his efforts. Instead, call it a labor of love.
John Cross is a Mankato Free Press staff writer. Contact him at (507) 344-6376 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published in the January 8, 2010, print edition.