A Elmer Crowell



2015-06-26 11:12:35

Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) is a notable bird decoy carver, whose work is considered to be amongst the best of its kind.


Cromwell was born in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and spent his early life working as both a market gunner and a cranberry farmer in the region. He was an enthusiastic hunter and although he would later make his name carving decoy birds, Cromwell preferred to use tethered live birds to attract others.

He is known to have carved a few decoys for his own personal use, but his career took off in 1910 when he was hired by a Boston physician named Dr. John C. Phillips to manage his hunting camp near Boston.

During the next 10 years Cromwell produced a number of unique hand-carved birds for both Phillips and his wealthy friends who would travel to the hunting camp on a regular basis. During the early years of the 20th century sport hunting became hugely popular, and the quality of decoys rose dramatically.

The richest hunters needed far fewer decoys than the large-scale commercial hunters of the 19th century, and could afford to spend more of exquisitely-carved examples. Cromwell’s skill and connections meant that by 1912 he was able to earn a living from the carvings alone, and he continued to produce them (along with his son Cleon) at his shop in East Harwich, Massachusetts until his retirement in 1943.


Today Cromwell’s work is celebrated as the height of the decoy carver’s art. His eye for detail, composition and years of observing water fowl led him to create some of the most beautiful and realistic decoys ever produced. He combined his carving with a ‘wet on wet’ blended painting technique which helped to create a level of realism unmatched by many of his peers.

The key to Cromwell’s success during his lifetime was in the fact that he began to sign his birds during the middle stages of his career. This was unusual amongst decoy artists and led to his name spreading across the country as a noted craftsman.

Notable sales

  • An A. Elmer Crowell (1862-1952), Nesting Canada Goose decoy, sold for $661,250 in 2009 by Copley Fine Art Auctions
  • An A. Elmer Crowell Preening Pintail decoy, sold for $546,250 in 2009 by Copley Fine Art Auctions
  • A Sleeping Canada Goose by Anthony Elmer Crowell sold for $684,000 at a Sotheby’s sale in 2000
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