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Sprankle decoy collection unveiled at ‘Ding’

By Staff | Mar 23, 2011

Surrounded by his family, Jim Sprankle, center, smiles after unveiling his decoy collection displayed at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Education Center on Tuesday evening.

Although his collection of decoys has been more than four decades in the making, Sanibel master wildlife carver Jim Sprankle said that Tuesday’s dedication ceremony at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s Education Center sort of took him by surprise.

“Honestly, I can’t believe this is happening to me,” said Sprankle, whose collection of 43 hand-carved waterfowl decoys — one representing each year the artist has engaged in the “hobby” — was unveiled before more than 100 invited guests. “It’s unbelievable that I’m here today and that my birds will be on display here at the refuge.”

The collection, which the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. had shown interest in acquiring, represents the evolution of decoys from native American waterfowl lures — created from dried grasses and reeds — to contemporary sculptures known for their attention to detail. It includes bird species such as the blue-winged teal, common loon, ringneck duck, red-breasted and hooded merganser, widgeon, puffin and wood duck.

Sprankle made their first of several thousands of decoys — a canvasback drake — in 1968. Soon, he was making more hand-carved ducks and other waterfowl, improving upon his skill and attention to detail along the way.

The former big league pitcher in the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds organizations, Sprankle went on to garner more than 70 Best of Show awards for his decoy carvings.

With some assistance from Cindy Dohner and Paul Tritaik, Jim Sprankle, right, unveils the new decoy display.

Prior to the unveiling, Sprankle recalled that after he and his family — all of whom were in attendance on Tuesday night — relocated to Sanibel in 1994, he met Lou Hinds, the former manager of the “Ding” Darling NWR.

“Lou told me that I should think about becoming a part of the (refuge’s) Friends group, and be involved with things going on here,” said Sprankle. “Little did I know that such wonderful things would happen to me, like creating a sculpture for the President of the United States.”

Entitled “Freedom Fighter,” the life-sized sculpture of an American bald eagle was presented by Sprankle to President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House in March 2004. Bush said that the sculpture will hold “a place of honor” at the future presidential library in Texas.

“It truly is our honor to be the recipient of this tremendous collection,” said Paul Tritaik, refuge manager. “Jim Sprankle is such an accomplished artist … I think that J.N. Darling himself would be proud to showcase this collection in our Education Center.

In addition to Tritaik, Sprankle’s collection was lauded by Chip Lesch of the Sanibel Captiva Trust Company, who sponsored the reception, Jim Scott of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, and Cindy Dohner, regional director of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

A crowd of more than 100 refuge supporters and Sprankle fans attended the reception.

“It’s unbelievable what you’ve been able to do,” Dohner told Sprankle. “Your collection is another thing that will help connect people with nature.

This Friday, March 25, Sprankle will present his “From Folk Art To Fine Art” lecture and slide show as part of the final “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society 2011 Friday Afternoon Lecture Series. Admission is free, but seating is limited and available on a first-come basis.

To further the tradition of decoys benefiting the environment, DDWS is offering sponsorship of Sprankle’s decoys at $2,500 per duck. Proceeds will be used to display the collection and support The Children’s Birding Trail that will connect Indigo Trail with access to The Sanibel School. Duck sponsors will be listed on a plaque at the exhibit site.

For more information on Sprankle’s appearance or to sponsor a duck, contact DDWS Executive Director Birgie Vertesch by calling 239-292-0566 or sending an e-mail to director@dingdarlingsociety.org.