The Ottumwa Courier

AP Iowa

November 25, 2013

Duck decoys dominate in E. Iowa antique shop

NEW VIENNA, Iowa (AP) — A long, 180-degree glance at the inventory at the Washington House Antiques store overwhelms the senses.

"Got stuff?" asks Steve Kerper, with a smile. "I'm the biggest pack rat in New Vienna."

He's probably correct. But what draws the eyes full bore are the polished, gleaming, hand-carved duck decoys that share space with the antiques, some dating to the 19th century.

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports (http://bit.ly/1cCTDqW ) Kerper is the Midwest Michelangelo of duck carving, a craft born of his love of the outdoors, creative mind and skilled hands.

Kerper began carving in 1986 to supplement the antique store sales, which were slow — and remain so. In 1992, the carving turned serious.

"Decoys were the main thing and the store became a hobby," he said.

Kerper collects his wood in Clayton and Dubuque counties.

"It's the most beautiful wood in the world, and all out there," he said. "I roam the timber. Either woodpeckers, grubs or me will get it."

A wood carver's palette is similar to that of a painter. Kerper began making decoys out of catalpa, locust, hickory, elm, oak, cedar, sumac, cherry, wormy butternut, walnut and other Iowa woods.

His favorites are walnut, butternut and catalpa, with sumac, red cedar and gray elm being the most striking.

A prolific tree planter, Kerper owns 12 acres of woodland mixed with river bottom and cropland. Here he has planted more than 5,000 trees of 65 species since 1974. He cuts the trees, dries and cures the wood naturally. (He also picks up dead wood, standing or fallen, too.) Kerper then hand carves them with a knife and hand sands the decoy to a satin finish.

"I'll carve outside when the weather is decent," he said. "If it's too hot, cold or wet, I'm in the corner."

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