Robert A. Elliston (1849-1915) Bureau, IL
Robert Elliston originated the style of decoy carving which now typifies the Illinois River area. His style is distinct and varies little from decoy to decoy. His decoys are small and sport peaked heads flattened to the notch of the bill. The bill is embellished with a carved lower mandible, nostrils, nail and a groove on either side. High cheeks poke out from under high-set eyes, giving the bird a frog-like appearance. This quality workmanship continues down over the body of the bird to where the seam is barely visible. According to his son, Dr. R.L. Elliston, Elliston carved pairs of blue- and green-wing teal, mallards and pintails, but only drakes of scaup, canvasbacks, coots, geese, redheads, ringnecks and wigeon (French, "Elliston" 10). These were the decoys that Catherine then painted with such talent that even bland colored hen became masterpieces. Her painted designs and combed swirls yielded realistic decoys. She went as far as to highlight each painted feather with white to reproduce the pale edges of true duck feathers. There are no records, but it is estimated that the Ellistons produced a few thousand decoys. Many of their decoys are still in use, and their high standards are reflected in the pieces by other Illinois River carvers. Elliston's decoy portraying a sleeping duck with its head turned is inaccurate, but nonetheless, it has almost become an Illinois tradition.