Back Bay-Knotts Island Waterfowl Festival brings collectors, carvers and families to Creeds to celebrate artistry

Al Chaker of Charlottesville looks at a decoy during a talk about collecting held this past month during the Back Bay-Knotts Island Waterfowl Festival at the Creeds Ruritan Community Complex in Virginia Beach. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]


CREEDS — More than 400 people attended the second annual Back Bay-Knotts Island Waterfowl Festival at the Creeds Ruritan Community Complex this past month. 

The event, organized by Chris Ludford and Jimmy Coppedge, grew in its second year of celebrating the tradition of outdoor life, especially hunting and fishing, as well as the artistry and history of decoy carving.

Coppedge, a carver and collector from Creeds, said Ludford was the driving force behind starting the festival, which debuted a year ago at Creeds Church of Christ with about 18 vendors. This year, at the Ruritan complex, there were about 40 vendors, including carvers, collectors and artists.

Ludford, a Great Neck resident and battalion chief in the Virginia Beach fire department, said the idea for the show evolved from a bad experience he had buying a decoy.

He’s a hunter, and he has collected memorabilia related to hunting for a while. 

“I would hunt in the season and, in the off season, hunt collectibles,” Ludford said.

Then he bought a decoy that wasn’t what the seller said it was.

“It came out of a bad decoy purchase,” he said. “I got burnt, and it happens.”

That kind of experience is what collector Robbie Smith of Waxhaw, N.C., who spoke during the festival about the trials and joys of building a collection, calls “tuition.”

“I was fortunate my tuition only cost me $500 to $600,” Ludford said, noting that’s still a fair bit of money. He said concerns about unscrupulous sellers can keep people from learning about decoys and their connections to Virginia and North Carolina history.

“I thought to my self, ‘How do I get people interested and confident in owning a piece of history?’” he said.

So Ludford spoke to people he knew, including Coppedge, whose father, the late Bud Coppedge of Pungo, was a well-known collector, carver and author – and a mentor to Ludford. 

Initially, what became a community festival was to have been a modest gathering, possibly a club.

“When I started making calls, the small group got big,” Ludford said.

He said a benefit of a festival is to have sellers in a room, especially folks with a passion for collecting who can advise others about purchases, ask and answer questions, even look over a shoulder to help a purchase, as needed. Additionally, the event has drawn people with major collections and experts in decoys of the region.

Jimmy Coppedge and Chris Ludford organized the Back Bay-Knotts Island Waterfowl Festival, held on Saturday, March 10, at the Creeds Ruritan Community Complex. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

“It’s just a festival to celebrate the heritage of this area,” Jimmy Coppedge said. “We want to see it get a little bit bigger.”

This year’s festival drew people from far distances to the show, young and old.

“I think it’s mostly the history of the decoys, the story of it and, for the new carvers, keeping the history of it alive,” Coppedge said, explaining the appeal of collecting and carving.

One feature of the event was an artifact room set up in the Ruritan Barn, where decoys from four local collectors were on display. The festival also included a number of talks, including a session in which Smith gave some tips about learning about decoys and building a collection.

Smith’s afternoon talk appealed to novice collectors, more experienced ones and hunters who sat in the front row. Smith recommended making friends, gaining mentors who know decoys and going to shows and handling as many decoys as possible.

“Go out and look at decoys,” he said. “Try to meet as many people as you can. The best way to learn about decoys is to touch them, feel them.”

He spoke about why decoys have and hold value. He also urged people to meet other folks who have great collections. 

A trustworthy mentor can make a difference. They can also help a collector learn about the carvers and the history of a decoy, he added. 

And, yes, he spoke of tuition – mistakes along the way toward being a seasoned collector – and how to keep the cost of learning to collect as reasonable as possible.

“It’s more than just collecting wood,” he said. “You’ll meet some of the finest people you’ll ever meet.”

Proceeds from the event go to the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild, which founded the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, and the Back Bay Restoration Foundation. 

Ludford said folks can mark their calendars for the next festival.

It is scheduled for March 9, 2019.

Among those who made the trip to the show were Carroll Midgett and Larry Midgett, seen above examining a shore bird. The men, who are related by marriage, said they try to go to various decoy shows and sometimes buy. “I’ve got a couple in the truck that I bought,” Carroll Midgett said. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Collector Robbie Smith of Waxhaw, N.C., held a talk full of tips about building a decoy collection. He recommended finding a mentor — or mentors skilled in collecting to learn more about decoys that have value. “Go out and look at decoys,” he said. “Try to meet as many people as you can.” In addition to appreciating the craft and heritage of decoys, he said collecting has also led to friendships.[John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

The well-known collector and author Kroghie Andresen of Charlotte, N.C., author of Gunnin’ Birds, a book about decoys, spent part of the festival researching an article. He found one decoy at a collector’s table and, moments later, photographed it. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Thomas McGraw and Preston Jordan, both 11, traveled to the Back Bay-Knotts Island Waterfowl Festival in Creeds on Saturday, March 10. Jordan’s father is a waterfowl guide, and McGraw knew respected decoy carvers by their names. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

For more information about the festival or to get involved next year, call Ludford at (757) 663-6970 or Coppedge at (757) 408-1942.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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