Little did he know during his lifetime, A. Elmer Crowell’s hand-painted and hand-carved
decoys would one day become the first decoys to sell for over a million dollars each. Considered
by some to be the Leonardo da Vinci of decoys, Crowell fashioned many decoys prized for their
intricate brushwork, prolific style, and lifelike form.
Crowell grew up in East Harwich, Massachusetts, an area rich with waterfowl. He spent his
youth hunting birds, becoming a market hunter and a hunting guide in his early adulthood. After
Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 outlawing the sale of wild fowl in
restaurants, Crowell took up decoy woodcarving and cranberry farming. His decoys grew in
popularity very quickly among sportsmen and tourists. It’s noted that the Rockefellers, Du Ponts,
and Fords purchased some of his work. Overall, Crowell is one of the most esteemed decoy
makers of his time, and his pieces have become important relics of American folk art.
Today, Crowell’s pieces exist worldwide in private collections as well as in museums and
galleries. Many of his works in excellent condition are easily valued into the thousands.
In a September 2007 private sale, a pintail drake and Canadian goose decoy of
Crowell’s sold for $1.3 million each, the highest recorded decoy sales in history
The barn where Crowell carved and painted his decoys was reconstructed and made into a
museum on the Brooks Academy Museum grounds in Cape Cod. It opened to the public in June
The Museum of American Bird Art in in Lincoln, Massachusetts has a permanent collection
of Crowell’s carvings on display