decoys — the primary method used
to hunt waterfowl — sometimes as
few as a dozen but more often a “raft”
of 50 or more placed in the water in
certain patterns near a makeshift blind.
Superb as the hunting was, the Cape
Fear watershed never saw hunting
guides, decoy carvers, or boat build-ers
like those who prospered in the
state’s northern waters of Core Sound,
Ocracoke and Currituck.
Early North Carolina decoys were
carved from local wood — juniper,
cedar or pine, and made for durabil-ity.
Hunters were rough on decoys,
stacking them by the dozens into small
boats with heavy weights wrapped
around the decoy’s neck. Enter
the Herter’s Company of Waseca,
Minnesota, that brought to the market
its Model 63 Standard and Model 72
Magnum decoys made from lighter,
inexpensive, durable plastic.
But, those early decoys, hand-carved
by artisans, were soon to be recognized
as art forms because, for many hunt-ers,
the beauty and elegant style could
never be duplicated by utilitarian, plas-tic
varieties. One of those hunters was
At the height of the waterfowl era of
the Cape Fear region, in a small work-shop
on Chestnut Street, renowned
woodworker George Paylor (1937-2016)
began mentoring the emerging artisan
carver. Under Paylor’s watchful eye,
Giovinetti worked alone and later with
two duck-hunting friends, Charles
Godwin and Dave Gustafson, to produce
his exemplary working decoys. Perhaps
it did not occur to them at the time that
they were not just making a functioning
decoy but a work of art. Some carved
decoys of that era were produced simply
for display, but not Giovinetti’s. In the
enduring context of working models, his
canvasback decoys weighed almost
three pounds each and, graceful
as they were to look at on land,
they worked like a charm in
the roughest waters.
The body of a Giovinetti decoy was
made from dense cork that was reclaimed
and fashioned from the refrigeration
units of WWII Liberty Ships. The tail
pieces and keels were sawn from local
juniper, and the bottom boards were of
marine plywood. The heads were hand-carved,
kiln-dried hardwood painstak-ingly
primed, painted and feathered.
Glass eyes were attached and then hand-cast
lead ballast weights were affixed to
the keels with brass screws.
While the initial technical wood-working
expertise must be attributed to
George Paylor’s skilled influence, all art
form first requires inspiration. For that,
one need only to observe Giovinetti,
who was profoundly inspired by nature.
He was born and reared in Wilmington;
graduated from New Hanover High
School and Wilmington College, and
was for some time a high school teacher
in Brunswick County. He was devoted
to his wife, Martha Lee, and their young
son Matt. The formative experiences
of his youth — those that would shape
his adult life — took place on the
Cape Fear River several miles south of
his 22nd Street, Chestnut Heights home.
The river was his teacher, and it was there
he first learned the ways of waterfowl.
Art of Carving
decoy carved by
circa 1969 is
William K. Trask.