MICHAEL BRAUN - New Jersey Decoy Carver Interview

Posted by WildlifeShowroom.com on Jul 22nd 2020

When Michael Braun, or Mr. B as he’s known to carvers and collectors, and I connect after a week of phone tag, he’s in the place you’ll find him most days of the week: his New Jersey workshop; a kind of man cave, converted from a two-car garage. “Sorry about that,” he says. “I kept missing your calls over the sound of my tools.” The second-generation carver is at-work as usual, but he made time to chat about visual art, his legacy with decoy carving, and of course, the rich and fascinating history of decoys in America.

Mr. B’s Duck Decoys


Wildlife Showroom:

When did you first become interested in carving? Do you remember your first encounter with decoys?

Michael Braun:

My father. He was a carver. He took me to all the decoy shows and competitions. We went to the world show one year. I was amazed at this one carving and showed my dad. You can do that, he said. So, I did it, and that first decoy won Best in Show at Toms River Decoy Show. It was a little Green-winged Teal – ten inches. I still have it. Then my dad and I made one together. He had a woodshop in the basement and most of my art was with wood, but when I was a little older, I got into “flat art;” paintings of nature that capture the scene in a different way than a single bird I might carve.

Michael Braun’s “Flat Art”

WS:

You went to art school right?

MB:

Yea, but first I had a teacher in high school who taught me how to use different mediums. That helped develop my abilities with my decoys by learning more about painting techniques and the qualities of different paints. Then after high school, I received a scholarship to the University of the Arts in Pennsylvania.

WS:

What’d you specialize in?

MB:

I majored in illustration, and I did illustration and design for ten years—everything from children’s toys and tee-shirts to interior design. I still do some design work.

WS:

Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration? Do you gather inspiration exclusively from nature or are your other artistic interests a part of it too?

MB:

Most of my inspiration comes from being in the woods and on the water. I grew up hunting and fishing. When I see something out there—a bird, or a color, or a scene—I store the image in my head and research it more to develop a plan for its carving.

WS:

Can you say more about your technique and the carving process?

MB:

I think about the old masters like Van Gogh, who used a very orderly process of sketching and planning, first in a book, then applied to the material. I have the same kind of process. I find the inspiration, and then I take that to the sketchbook and flesh it out. Then those sketches are turned into a pattern and the pattern is transferred to the wood. The painting techniques are the same.

Caption: Decoy Painting with Oils

WS:

What does it mean to you to be participating in a tradition of making? From your father at first, but also the decoy makers that came before you?

MB:

Decoys have come a long way from the old hunting days. When you think of the earliest form in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, decoys were simply a tool. People made them for a living from any material they could find—a log floating down the river, old telephone poles, railroad ties, foam. People hunted with them for one season, and then they became firewood. In the Delaware River region, decoys became a piece of art—very delicate, refined, carved. Every region has a specific style. Now, you can buy your wood from a local mill or from a show. Cedar in general is a great material. It doesn’t rot, it’s durable to the elements, bugs don’t like it, and it’s very light. And most importantly, it carves beautifully. For me, I have a great love and adoration for the outdoors, waterfowl, and hunting. Carving decoys and making flat art are a way for me to share my passions.

{Workshop}

A scene from Mr. B’s converted garage workshop

WS:

What aspect of your artistic practice do you enjoy the most?

MB:

Drawing. That’s where I express my ideas first. But in truth, every part of the process has its own specific joy. Carving for instance; I use all hand-tools to start, some of which I’ve had since boyhood. My dad was a tool and dye-maker.

Michael Braun's decoy tools

Mr. B’s Hand Tools

WS:

Is there a piece of yours that’s an absolute favorite?

MB:

There’s an Emperor I carved that took First in Species at the World Championship Carving Competition. I’m really pleased with the anatomy and the scale. I gave a friend in Alaska a decoy and he was able to get a permit to hunt an Emperor. He gave the bird to me to say thanks and I used it as a model.

The Emperor that took First in Species

WS:

What’s currently on your workshop table?

MB:

A multitude of birds including teal, mallards, Canvasbacks, and swans.