Bill Gibian Decoys: A Dedication to Excellence
When Bill asked me if I would write a little blurb about him for his website, I vividly remembered what an art history professor once said: ď If you want to know about a man, donít read his biography; look carefully at his work.Ē
If thatís really the case, then I guess Iím off the hook, because by perusing this site, you will see as I did years ago, that Billís exquisite interpretation of hand-carved wildfowl has an intrinsic quality that speaks for itself; anything added would be superfluous.
That could be the end of the story, but it isnít. Because years after first hearing that teacherís statement, I started wondering if the reverse werenít also true: If I met someone who had set the highest standards for himself, was gifted with a rare coupling of unfailing aesthetic sensibility and talent, and had a deep and abiding appreciation for the world and the spiritual life, could I then predict the quality of art this person would produce? In many cases, yes, and in Billís case, unequivocally Ė you canít extract one from the other, they are a reflection of the same set of values.
To my way of thinking, Bill fulfills all the criteria for creating the type of decoy that becomes a treasured family heirloom rather than a mere mantle ornament. Each is really an original; there are no stock patterns used, and thus every carving is a one-of-a-kind item that no one else will ever have. After conceptualizing a particular bird, Bill starts rendering sketches, first on paper, then on kiln-dried, Northern white cedar. After an initial shaping with the bandsaw, the rest of the work is entirely hand finished. No duplicating machines are ever used, no short cuts are taken. The best German glass eyes are installed, and the pieces are sanded, primed, sanded again, and primed once more before receiving what many are calling the finest paint job since the legendary decoy maker Elmer Crowell picked up a brush. Only the highest-grade oil paints are used, which develop an unparalleled warmth and patina over the years. Few would argue that Bill is the premier paint blender in the business - I have marveled for hours at the subtle color variations and painstaking detail of feather rendering that are only part of Billís many defining touches.
But thereís more, because palpably evident is some intangible quality that takes his work from the technical to the sublime. For lack of a better word, his birds have personality. They are very accurate renderings of nature, to be sure, but unlike the artist that seeks kudos by attempting a perfect replication, rather than imitating life, he interprets it, and each little carving makes its own statement, with its own agenda.
I have a number of Billís carvings in my home and office, and find the beauty, intelligence, and gentleness that emanate from his wildfowl to be the perfect antidote to a stress-filled day. And just as these traits permeate all of his work, it is so with the man. A better listener I have yet to encounter, and his breadth of interests are both voluminous and eclectic: you will get sound advice about wood carving, or, if your taste swings towards the philosphical or interpersonal, be prepared to engage in a most stimulating and thoughtful discourse.
So, while I am an unabashed fan, and truly believe that Bill is the pre-eminent decoy carver of our generation, he is something more: a fine human being. And at the end of the day, what else really matters?