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Horsing Around

A horse is a horse, of course, of course--unless it's a shaving horse.

By: William Kennedy
Photography by William Kennedy

I was born in Maryland and ventured to Charlestown as a youngster, after having worked with Havre de Grace-style decoys for a few years. In Charlestown just across the Flats, I discovered a very different method of making decoys. There were no lathes, no duplicators of any kind, just hand-chopped birds that went from the hatchet to a shaving horse, where the carvers worked them into shape with drawknives and the spokeshave.

I have never seen another shaving horse or holding fixture that combines this holding power with the length and strength of this type of horse. It is the only style horse I have ever seen built exclusively for use in decoy work, and except for my own, I have never seen one outside of Charlestown. Maybe they are out there—but I haven't seen them. 

I derived the design for my horse directly from the horses I had the privilege of using as a youngster. I did a lot of work on two in particular. One was handed down in the John Graham family, and the other came from the family of Will Heverin. Both men are legends and made up two-fifths of the "Charlestown Five," legendary decoy makers from the area (the others were George Washington Barnes, Scott Jackson, and Wally Algard). Both those shaving horses had the same design characteristics, and both were timeworn from thousands of strikes from drawknives and hatchets.

This article is from the Summer 2011 issue. For more information on our issues, check out our issues page.


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