Ben Schmidt

(1884 - 1968) Centerline, MI

Ben Schmidt carved his first decoys in 1914 when he needed a rig for hunting and ended up becoming one of the best-known carvers in Michigan (Engers 215). His life-like style is atypical of the area, but other carvers have adopted and copied it since it was originated. With a band saw borrowed from a friend, presumably Ralph Johnston, Schmidt roughed out the decoy’s shape and further refined the piece with a hand axe, lather’s hatchet, spokeshave, plane and rasp. All of Schmidt’s hollow decoys have been drilled out from the bottom and some have attached bottom boards. He relief-carved the wing tips and tail feathers, but for the other feathers, Schmidt took a rather unique approach. Using tools that he made himself, he impressed feather outlines by tapping these metal tools with a hammer. In this manner, Schmidt textured the surface of the bird with feathers of different sizes.

Schmidt made thousands of decoys for his own use and for sale and supplied Detroit hunters for years. During the period of greatest productivity, Ben and his older brother Frank Schmidt worked together and made decoys displaying their combined talents. Between the two of them, they produced a decoy for every duck and goose species hunted in the Midwest. Many of these decoys were sold to sporting goods stores. As the years passed, Ben worked by himself and specialized in special-order decoratives, miniatures and third-sized carvings.