It's all about the lure.
For art instructor Bob Johnson, his fish decoy carving class was meant to help lure nontraditional students into the art program at Brainerd High School.
And, for some students, there's the lure of making more than a few bucks selling the in-demand decoys.
And, of course, there's the obvious lure for those who prefer to put their work to the ultimate test.
A group of brightly painted folk art decoys was ready to be judged during last week's fish decoy carving contest at Brainerd High School. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Cizek made his first decoy (earlier) this year and went out over Christmas break and had a picture of a pike he got with that first decoy," Johnson said of Travis Cizek, one of more than two dozen students in the class this last semester. "I think he used it faithfully the rest of the year."
The class ended last week with a decoy carving contest at BHS. Some students sell their work - the decoys are popular among spearers during the ice-fishing season. Others, like Cizek, take their work out to see if it floats. Or swims. After all, that is a criteria.
Cizek's minnow won the folk art division in last week's competition. Although artistry is a key criteria - 30 percent - 70 percent was judged on a decoy's swimming ability.
A fish decoy was ready to be judged at the Brainerd High School decoy carving contest. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls .» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Carvers also competed in the decorative (extreme realism) class - judged on 70 percent likeness to species and 30 percent swimming ability - and the service working class - 70 percent swimming and 30 percent likeness. Corey Rudolph won the former with a sucker replica and Ben Nelson the latter with a cisco.
"As part of the class, students are expected to do research on the history of spearing, including interviewing at least one regional spear fishermen to design and carve a jig stick used to test their decoys," Johnson said. "They also are expected to design, carve and paint four fish decoys - one folk art, one realistic fish species, one critter associated with lakes - frog, water insect, bird, reptile, etc. - and one of their own choosing."
Decoy carving students Paul Witt (left), Derek Carter and Randy Kohls prepared their wooden fish decoys for the swim test. Carter's sucker minnow finished second in the folk art competition, judged on 70 percent swimming ability and 30 percent artistic creation.Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
An in-depth class. And in demand.
"We started this in 2002 - (the school said that) if you get 25 kids in there, we'll give it a shot. We turned away 90 kids," Johnson said. "Now there are three intro classes and two advanced classes."
With the failure of the school levy referendum in November, this was expected to be the last year of the class. But Johnson recently learned that while the class will be slimmed down, it won't be eliminated.
Retired biology instructor Nolan Spencer tested a fish decoy in a tank while Brainerd High School decoy carvers looked on. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"I had a parent who literally had tears in his eyes (when he heard the class was being eliminated). His kid had been waiting for six years to get into the class."
Parents weren't alone in their gloom when it was thought the class would be cut. Recently, Johnson said he had a student tell him, "'If it weren't for this class, I would have dropped out by now.'"
Decorative wood decoys were ready to be judged. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Some guys make a living on this stuff," Johnson said. "The older carvers are cutting back. Some of the younger guys are coming in to fill the void, which is kind of a necessity. You can't find too many reasonably priced handmade decoys anymore."
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