Tommy Stewart: Decoy Carver/Shorebirds

Photo: Tommy StewartTom Stewart is a decorative decoy carver, who is also a recreational hunter. Like other traditional decoy carvers. Tom’s interest in carving can be traced to his family, especially his grandfather Dave Stewart and his lather Russell. Dave and Russell spent many hours when Tom was just a young boy making silhouettes, whirligigs, birdhouses and other wooden objects at their home in Uniondale. Tom spent many hours with his father and grandfather learning to make these same objects, preparing himself for more challenging projects later in life. His first carving was a simple cardinal relief that was mounted on a plaque. Tom recalls mat he made ii with razor blades, a project that was completed in just a few weeks. Like other proud grandfathers, Dave “thought I was the best in the world.”

Tom’s childhood was centered on woodworking and the water. He went fishing and crabbing with friends near Bayville and Freeport. He remembers watching as flocks of old squaws, black ducks and red breasted mergansers migrated north during November and December. These are traditions he continues today, silting on the meadows of Fire Island on Thanksgiving, the opening day of duck hunting season. Although he rarely shoots ducks today, Tom asserts “there is a romance about going out.”

Tom first carved strictly decorative birds including the red breasted merganser using basswood, switching to tupelo, a wood found on tupelo gum trees in the south because it was lighter. His friend Bob Aydelotte taught Tom to carve gunnin’ birds from cork, a tradition Tom continues every year in preparation for hunting season. However most of his time is devoted to decorative birds. He makes his own colors for his hand-carved eyes, a characteristic that is rare among decoy carvers.

Tom is past president of two well-known organizations: the Long Island Woodcarvers Association and the LI Wildfowl Carvers. He is also a member of the LI Decoy Collectors. His main area of interest is capturing lifelike qualities in his work, design and composition. Tommy spends as much time as he can walking along the Great South Bay and the Massapequa Preserve, which allows him to gain creativity from the study and observation of diverse wildlife on a regular basis. Tommy competes and judges at the most prestigious wildfowl art shows throughout the country. In addition to competing and judging he also conducts seminars nationwide, most notably at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology located in Northern Oregon. Tommy receives much pleasure in teaching and influencing those interested in this art form, adding that he too, as an artist, is a lifelong student.

In 2006, 2007 and 2011, he was awarded the North American Shorebird Carving Championship at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, where his Greater Yellowlegs, Eastern Willet and Buff-Breasted Sandpiper will be permanently on display.

In 2008 he was awarded the International Wildfowl Carvers Association Shorebird Championship.In 2010 and 2012 he was awarded best in division with a Decorative Smoothie Whimbrel and Marbled Godwit, and in 2023 awarded third Best in the World Interpretive Wood Sculpture with a 34-inch Black Neck Stilt at the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition in Ocean City, Maryland.

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