Frank E. Combs (1882-1958) Alexandria Bay, NY
Frank Combs, known as "Goldy" to his friends for a gold capped tooth, was a hunter all his life. In the 1920's, Combs began carving decoys. By watching a film on ducks living in a wildlife sanctuary, Combs noticed that each time birds lighted on the water, the others stretched their necks to watch. Bearing this in mind, he originated the long-neck duck decoy. Hunters scoffed at him, saying that the stools would spook instead of lure the birds, but they were wrong. Not only did live birds respond favorably to the long-necks, but the new design prevented ice buildup on the decoy. Combs carved his decoys from cedar and drew on the carving style of Chauncey Wheeler. Combs' bodies are rounded with flattened chests, smooth surfaces and flat bottoms. Pointed tails are set below centerline, and small neck seats form the bases for full heads. Horizontal eye grooves protect glass eyes and define cheeks and foreheads.
With a drawknife, rasp and spoke shave, Combs could carve a decoy in twenty minutes. He was also a proficient painter, combining stippling, blending and combing with Wheeler's reverse feather painting technique. $15 was the going price for a dozen of Combs' early works, but once he quit carving, the price per dozen rose to $48 (Evans, "Coombs" 13). Combs produced about four hundred decoys a year and outdid himself one year by making six hundred (Kangas, Survey 155). Even so, he could have sold more than he could make and denied Abercrombie and Fitch's order