Master decoy carver Grayson Chesser, left, and apprentices Drew Sturgis, right, and Mark Ross photographed in Chesser's carving studio at his Jenkins Branch home on 1/23/18.
Photo by Pat Jarrett/The Virginia Folklife Program
P.G. Ross, MArk Ross, Drew Sturgis, and Andy Dunton
Published April 20, 2017
The Eastern Shore of Virginia, a narrow peninsula stretching roughly seventy-five miles between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, has long nourished the artistry of waterfowl decoy carving. The area around Chincoteague Island has been particularly fertile ground for carving over the years, and is home to the eminent carvers Ira Hudson, Dave “Umbrella” Watson, Delbert “Cigar” Daisey, Delbert Hudson, and Miles Hancock. Grayson Chesser can trace his family’s roots on Virginia’s Eastern Shore back to the mid-1600s. As a young man, Grayson learned his craft from Hancock and other Chincoteague masters, at a time when the wooden duck decoy tradition was being threatened by the development of plastic hunting decoys. The homemade wooden decoy, traditionally a self-taught craft of the waterman made for the specific purpose of hunting, has become a coveted art object among collectors, and Grayson’s decoys are continually in high demand. While many of his decoys end up on the collector’s shelf, Grayson, himself an avid hunter, still intends for each one to be a working decoy. A returning Master Artist in our program, Grayson will take on four apprentices with whom he hunts and carves regularly: Eastern Shore natives (and brothers) PJ and Mark Ross, Drew Sturgis, and Andy Dunton. Together they will share tricks of the trade and plenty of stories in Grayson’s workshop beside the house and lodge where Grayson and his wife Dawn, master of Eastern Shore cuisine, live and operate the Holden Creek Gun Club in Jenkins Bridge.