Kevin Kerrigan holds up a small carved wooden shore bird with coat hanger legs and says, “This is where it all started.”
The nationally renowned master decoy carver who specializes in antique reproductions chuckles at the memory. “My father went to Block Island and came back with this. I told him, ‘I can make that.’ And he said, ‘No you can’t.” And so, on a bet, two days later, Kevin produced an exact replica. He keeps his father’s memento close at hand as a constant reminder that his thriving 48-year-old business came from humble beginnings. Which pretty much describes the master hand carver’s attitude in a nutshell. He credits others for guiding him, he credits his friends for first recognizing his talent enough to purchase some of his carvings and he acknowledges a good set of “right place at the right time” circumstances for moving him into the limelight.
While all of the above may be true, it is Kevin’s artistic talent, love for the outdoors, accurate research and his keen understanding of his market that has made him a very sought-after artist.
Kevin can usually be found in the basement studio of the Ridgefield home he shares with his wife, Alice, an owner of the popular Blazer Pub in North Salem. At first glance, Kevin’s studio looks like chaos. Decoys in the making crowd the worktable and cans of paint, brushes, and tools share the space. But for the artist, it is organized chaos with every bird in the making waiting for the moment when Kevin brings them to life. Each of his works are individually hand carved and painted. He researches the decoys he replicates right down to the mix of paints and estimates he can complete about twenty birds a month, depending on the detail.
A Lifetime of Art
As a kid growing up in Ridgefield, Kevin was always painting, drawing, and creating. While, some of his paintings hang on the walls of his home, that isn’t where his passion lies. An avid outdoorsman and naturalist, he once spent a week painting the scales on the cast of a fish his dad caught and is now mounted and displayed Kevin says he can pretty much carve anything. A few of his friends even have a one-of-a-kind miniature bear, complete with each strand of hair individually burned—which he literally swears never to do again. Sometimes, the artist who is often months or years out on commissions even gives back the deposit.
Kevin points to an unfinished pheasant and says he decided not to do them anymore because they are too time consuming. Kevin gave people’s deposits back cash because he says, “If I gave it back in a check, they wouldn’t cash it and then they’d be calling all the time saying, ‘where’s my pheasant?’”
His natural good humor combined with his innate talent didn’t go unnoticed by the Orvis folks who asked him over thirty years ago to demonstrate his technique, and pretty soon he partnered with them on projects to sell his birds. But his career took its biggest shift when Kevin asked Orvis to put his work in their gift catalogue geared towards women.
“When they picked me, I said, I know you’re all smarter than me and I don’t want to tell you how to run things, but my business is 95% women. They own the house, the books shelves, they pick what goes on them.” Kevin convinced them to try that market and the rest is history. His birds have graced many magazine covers and he has appeared in such publications as Country Living Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, House and Garden, and the New York Times. His Orvis holiday covers are pieces of art in themselves.
A Lifetime of Learning
While that little shore bird got him into hand carving, he credits the late Ralph Morrelle, former Zoologist Emeritus at the Peabody Museum in New Haven for steering him in the right direction. Kevin enjoyed helping Morelle out at the museum and the two collaborated on many projects that included detail paintings for the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute. It was Morelle who encouraged him to move from imagination to accurate replication saying “do something no-one else is doing.”
Kevin did schematics, studied the paint mixes and carving techniques of antique decoys borrowed from his friend and avid collector Alan Haid—all of which led to his authentic decoys.
There isn’t an inch of the Kerrigan home that isn’t covered with artwork, memorabilia and of course, decoys. Many are works in progress because as Kevin says, “I just keep doing it. Even when I go to the beach, I’m working.”
One of the few times he isn’t working is when he takes his frequent Main Street walks with a good friend. The rest of the time, his hands are itching. And it’s a good thing because when people come home from the beach they want shorebirds, when the holidays come they want a Christmas Swan and now they are clamoring for stars and stripes which Kevin laughingly says “are due yesterday.”
Kevin Kerrigan’s accolades and awards are piled almost as high as his works in progress, but he just shrugs off any praise. He loves what he does and never forgets where it all started—by winning a bet with his dad. For more information, go to kerrigandecoys.com.
Janice MauroCarving A Place in the Heart
Don’t even look at the wood carvings by Janice Mauro unless you are ready for a stab to the heart. The artist whose sculptures are less about real life imaging and more about real life emotion can blow you away with her Immigration series, her COVID series, her It’s a Man’s World series…so simple in their concept, so complicated in the art.
The artist who says she was born to create objects started as a child by drawing. She was quickly drawn to carving and honed her skills under the tutelage of the late sculptor, Richard McDermott, where she worked as his artist’s assistant. The treasured tools he willed to her are carefully mounted and still put to good use.
Recently Mauro retired from teaching at Silvermine Arts Center because she has so much more to say through her art. With pieces so heavy, she is realistic about how much time she will be able to continue sculpting.
In her light infused studio at the Redding home she shares with her husband of forty years, heavy pieces of wood, works in progress and a screen, the backdrop for photographs are at the ready. Mauro used to be fearful of ruining one of her carvings which can take months to complete, but not anymore. Experience has taught her that she has a good process. She carefully carves prototypes first and even her miniatures seem to have voices of their own. “I like the process of seeing something from the ground up,” says Mauro.
“My calling is to make an object that people can respond to—objects that encourage conversation.”