Ron Jacobson can walk out his back door to the boat or canoe and spend the whole day out on Lake Chippewa north of Brandon.
The wildlife, the water — it brings him back every time. Taking a fish home is supposed to be the goal, but it’s merely a bonus. In fact, when he pulls up a walleye or bluegill, he doesn’t imagine it in a frying pan any more than he sees it as art.
“I look at it and think how can I do this with a carving?” Jacobson said while discussing the features of different fish.
The basement of his house is full of carvings big and small: a life-size blue heron and sandhill crane, owls, ducks and small shorebirds, down to quarter-sized baby turtles.
Then there’s the fish decoys. They line rows of shelves on the wall and sit in cabinets. He carved his first northern with a jackknife, coping saw and sandpaper in 1945 from wood he took from one of his mother’s peach crates. Seventy years later, it’s still on display with hundreds of others that serve as décor in his home.
Some are his own carvings. Many aren’t. Jacobson can’t decide what he likes better — doing the work himself or collecting other’s.
“Both,” he says with a smile. “It’s just fun to get together and exchange ideas.”
Jacobson will turn 80 this May. He’s as much of a historian of this art form as he is a carver himself these days.
Books detailing the biographies of many of the most notable carvers are scattered on his coffee table. Jacobson rattles off dozens of names over the course of an hour-long conversation — Snook Barrett, John Tax and Rudy Zwieg are a few local artists.
The names keep coming. Jacobson has admired so many carvers over the years and become friends with plenty, too.
“That’s the fun is meeting these fellows,” he said. “It’s the camaraderie. We trade or sell [carvings]. There’s a different story with every one of them.”
Jacobson is like a lot of carvers in that he got his start in order to make his own hunting and fishing supplies. Duck decoys are a popular starting point, and fish decoys for spearing generally follow.
“I guess I like the idea of the wildlife, how I see it,” Jacobson said. “It’s a sport that has been around for years, spearing. They’ve traced it even back to Egyptian times. Most of the fishing was done with nets, but there were people who speared then.”
Jacobson has carved hundreds of both working and decorative decoys over the years.
“It’s trial and error,” he said. “You see a piece of wood and you see something there. You draw it on and you try to bring it out. Sometimes it becomes firewood, sometimes it turns into something.”
Those that turn into something often end up at competitions. Gatherings like the upcoming Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sporting Collectible Show at the Runestone Community Center this Saturday offer carvers the chance to come together to share their work to the public.
It’s the 12th annual show put on by the local mid-state chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. It’s free to the public with more than 80 vendors, carving competitions, face paintings for kids, silent auctions, raffles and food.
Each year, the mid-state chapter honors a Carver of the Year. This year’s winner is Curt Soine of Granite Falls. Jacobson won the honor in 2007.
The Rudy Zwieg Show started at a local VFW more than a decade ago. It quickly outgrew that venue and now fills the west rink at the RCC.
There are carvings and collectibles of every kind. From realism to folk art — artists like Jacobson use their imagination to create this work all year. Now is their chance to show it to the public and put their work against other carvers in competition.
“That’s the fun part,” Jacobson said. “There’s so many different styles. That’s what I like is the different folk art and primitive styles beginners do, and you see it go from there.”
RUDY ZWIEG COLLECTIBLE SHOW SATURDAY
The 12th annual Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sporting Collectible Show is set for this Saturday, March 19 at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.