Harkers Island To Celebrate Heritage, Decoys

Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island is hosting its annual Waterfowl Weekend the first weekend in December. Photo: Heidi Merkley

HARKERS ISLAND –  For years, folks have been making their way to the small island in Carteret County the first weekend of December for two festivals that celebrate the unique heritage of Down East, its waterfowling traditions and community spirit.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center at the “end of the road” hosts the annual Waterfowl Weekend, which not only serves as a celebration but also a homecoming for friends and neighbors. Festivities begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, and again at 10 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 3. Launching the Waterfowl Weekend is the Friday night preview party at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1 that features a fresh seafood and wild game buffet and dessert party.

Throughout the weekend there will be more than 75 carvers, wildlife artists and crafters displaying their work at the museum plus an education tent for children and the 2017 Core Sound Heritage Auction. Visitors will also have an opportunity to view the museum’s 25th anniversary exhibition and film, “Core Sound’s Place.” Carving demonstrations, old workboat restoration and retriever demonstrations offered by Moss Bend Retrievers out of Grimesland will be at the museum for the special weekend. Admission is free.

Just down the road, the 30th annual Core Sound Decoy Festival in Harkers Island Elementary School will take place. Held 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, the school will be filled to the brim with artists and carvers from the Mid-Atlantic, plus there will be antique decoy exhibits, a head whittling contest and decoy competitions with categories for every carver, retriever demonstrations and more. There will also be activities for children, educational exhibits and live and silent auctions. School staff and volunteers will serve food throughout the festival. Admission is $8 daily for adults, children under 12 are admitted free.

Youngsters are welcome to try their hand with the bow and arrow under the guidance of experienced archers Sunday during Youth Day at the 30th annual Core Sound Decoy Festival. Photo: Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild

Youth Day is Sunday at the Core Sound Decoy Festival when there will be door prizes, kids decoy painting, a youth decoy competition, a youth head carving competition, archery experience, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission Nature Exhibit and the youth loon calling contest. All children under 18 are admitted free Sunday.

This event is hosted by and benefits the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of waterfowl carving heritage.

“The Core Sound Decoy Festival has become a tradition, not only for local families but also for people all over the country,” Jerry Talton, vice president of the decoy guild, said. “We are proud to be one of the oldest decoy festivals in the world as well as a coastal North Carolina tradition for 30 years and counting.”

The tradition of celebrating Down East heritage all began when a group of decoy carvers — Wayne Davis, David Lawrence, Gregory Lupton, Curt Salter, Norman Hancock, Carl Huff and James Gordon Salter — met 30 years ago and decided it was time to build a museum in Down East Carteret County dedicated to the waterfowling traditions of the region.

“The 25-year mark for the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center is more than a timeline of events, dollars and buildings, numbers of people and miles traveled,” explained Karen Amspacher, director of the waterfowl museum, in a statement.

“This anniversary is the recognition of a revival of heritage, traditions and community that have resulted in the wonderful facility we have ‘at the end of the road’ on Harkers Island,” she continued. “Thanks to the leadership and vision of the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum Inc. was created. Our 2017 Winter Taste (of Core Sound fundraising dinner) honored the founders of the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild and the men and women who laid the foundation for what is now the Core Sound Decoy Festival and the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center.”

Six of the orginal seven Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild members: Curt Salter, James Gordon Salter, Wayne Davis, Norman Hancock, David Lawrence and Carl Huff. Photo: Contributed

Friday night during the preview party, $75 per person, in addition to being able to enjoy the “Wild Game and Seafood Extravaganza, ” ticketholders will also be able to listen to live music, bid on items during a silent auction and have a preview of the work more the artists, carvers and crafters will be selling at the museum throughout the weekend.

The third annual Janice M. Smith Champagne Decoy Floating Competition also takes place during the preview party. Decoys with precise details and small enough to fit into a champagne glass will be judged and awarded. Smith and her husband Billy supported the museum effort from day one, serving in various leadership roles and volunteering in numerous capacities before their deaths. The late Mr. Smith served as chairman and was one of the founders of the museum.

It has become a tradition for the museum to honor during the Friday night preview party an individual or family that has contributed to the success of the museum. This year, Warren and Joan Davis of Straits will be recognized. The two have been a part of the museum since its inception.

Mr. Davis said that they became involved in the museum because the Smiths encouraged them to join the effort.

“I really don’t deserve any reward.  I am reminded of the old joke ‘… if you want to get the top award, just outlive everyone else’ and, at 80 years old, I guess that is the case,” Mr. Davis told Coastal Review Online. “However, the museum has been an important part of our family’s lives over the past 25-plus years. For example, several years ago, our 6-year-old grandson took decoy carving lessons at the museum from ‘Brother’ Gaskill.  For us, the museum preserves for the future a very important part of our heritage and the heritage of all ‘Down Easters.’”

Mr. Davis explained that his grandfather, Dr. J.J. Davis, was the first doctor to live and practice medicine Down East in Smyrna, and some of his medical instruments are on display on the second floor of the museum.

“He and my grandmother raised their 12 children on their farm in Smyrna. He was also the only acting pharmacist ever to practice Down East, as he made most of his patient’s prescriptions in a small room next to his Smyrna office at the back side of his home. And all of his 12 children all have left their marks on eastern Carteret County,” Mr. Davis continued. “I could go on and on, but simply said, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center is a constant reminder of where we, and all Down East people, came from and why it is so important to preserve this treasure for our children and grandchildren just as it was given to us.”

Tommy Jones, museum chairman, said in a statement that Mr. Davis’ role with the museum has been instrumental from the beginning, bringing important partners to help build and maintain the facility.

“Warren’s legal advice, calm decision-making and his commitment to waterfowling has helped lead the museum forward over these past 25 years,“ he added.

This 1950s-1960s Canvas Canada Goose by Atlantic carver Charlie Clifton Edwards will be auctioned Saturday during the 2017 Core Sound Heritage Auction. Photo: Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center

Saturday at the museum also gives collectors the opportunity to bid on 20 significant decoys at auction, in-person or online during the 2017 Core Sound Heritage Auction that begins at 4:30 p.m. Preview starts at noon. In partnership with the Carolina Decoy Collectors Association, the decoys have been given by collectors to support the work of the museum.  All contributions to this auction are 100 percent donations. The history of these unique decoys is included in the heritage auction catalog and explains why these pieces have an important place in Core Sound decoy history.

At 8 a.m. Sunday at the museum, there will be Music, Memories and Fellowship with Corey Lawrence and Kerry Willis, who will share stories about the Harkers Island they knew as children. A Core Sound breakfast will follow.

The Sunday Afternoon Community Christmas Gathering will close out the weekend at the museum and starts at 2 p.m. There will be music by the Harkers Island Community Choir, the Nelsons and the announcement of winners for the “Cab & Barbara Ramsey Island Decorating Contest,” which is an island-wide Christmas decorating competition.

There will be shuttles between the waterfowl museum and the school throughout the weekend so folks can easily attend both festivals.

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About the Author

Jennifer Allen

Born and raised in Swansboro, Jennifer Allen graduated from Appalachian State University in 2002 and picked up a second degree from UNC-Charlotte the following year. She joined the staff of the Carteret County News-Times in Morehead City in 2005 and completed her master's at UNC-Wilmington in 2008. Jenn spent nine years writing and editing at the News-Times before joining the staff at the Town of Beaufort in 2014, where she served as public information officer and town clerk. On June 1, 2017, Jenn came aboard as assistant editor for Coastal Review Online. She has also written for Our State Magazine and other regional and statewide publications. She lives in Morehead City with her fiancé and their pups, Z, Gus and Willa.