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Meander featured artist creates carved wooden decoys deserving of display

Don't be misled by the modest moniker. Curt Soine, this year's featured artist for the Meander, creates works of art and sells them under the brand Curt's Decoys. Many also happen to be fully-functional waterfowl and fish decoys.

Curt Soine took up carving nearly 40 years ago after his wife, Paula, pointed to a $400 carving of a swan she liked and he replied: "That doesn't look that tough. I can make one of those." His work has come a long ways since that start, but one constant has been his love for it. He is shown at his shop in Granite Falls on Sept. 22, 2022.
Curt Soine took up carving nearly 40 years ago after his wife, Paula, pointed to a $400 carving of a swan she liked and he replied: "That doesn't look that tough. I can make one of those." His work has come a long ways since that start, but one constant has been his love for it. He is shown at his shop in Granite Falls on Sept. 22, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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GRANITE FALLS — Every farm kid knows the mantra, “why buy it when you can make it?”

Which is why Curt Soine took one look at the carving of a swan that his wife, Paula, pointed out in a magazine as something she’d like, saw the $400 price tag, and responded: “That doesn’t look that tough. I can make one of those.”

Just shy of 40 years later, it’s now Soine’s carvings that are appearing in magazines and books.

It’s also why, come the opening of the Upper Minnesota River Valley Meander arts crawl on Friday, you shouldn't dawdle. Every year, there are cars of people waiting outside of his home and workshop in Granite Falls to get first dibs at his inventory.

Soine was chosen by his fellow artists as the featured artist for the 2022 Meander.

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“He does beautiful stuff. He’s come a long way,” said Paula, who calls herself his harshest critic.

He did make good on his word and created a replica of the swan that she spotted in the magazine, as well as a more recent version of it. The original, he can now laugh, is from his “door stopper” era when he put some of his early clunkers aside.

Shore birds have long been a favorite subject for carver Curt Soine. His rendition of an avocet is the featured image for this year's Meander. He is shown with an avocet, but not the featured one. A customer snapped that one up nearly as soon as it was completed.
Shore birds have long been a favorite subject for carver Curt Soine. His rendition of an avocet is the featured image for this year's Meander arts crawl. He is shown with an avocet, but not the featured one. A customer snapped that one up nearly as soon as it was completed.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Today, his works are found on mantels all around the country. One year, he had visitors from 13 different states during the Meander. Through the year, he ships his works to customers all over the county, and sometimes, overseas as well. Many are longtime customers.

The shingle outside his shop simply reads “Curt’s Decoys,” and looks for all the world like a place the characters in the movie “Grumpy Old Men” might drop by. It’s why when he first began participating in the Meander, Curt and Paula would watch — and laugh — as a carload of women would stop outside and wait for a scout among the group to come in and check it out.

Invariably, the scout would wave the group in.

Now the word is out. While all of his waterfowl and fish decoys are built for real use, the detail, the design and composition of these works are deserving of display.

Curt Soine carves traditional fish decoys, but also creates fish decoys for spearing featuring birds, such as this Pileated woodpecker. Along with being beautiful, it is a completely functional decoy, weighted and finned to swim in circles when jigged.
Curt Soine carves traditional fish decoys, but also creates fish decoys for spearing featuring birds, such as this Pileated woodpecker. Along with being beautiful, it is a completely functional decoy, weighted and finned to swim in circles when jigged.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Decoys are meant to attract. That gives him artistic license to add color and vibrancy, or as Soine describes it, to “jazz” up his fish decoys meant for spear fishers. It also allows him a little artistic license for the waterfowl decoys he creates, as well as the many shorebirds he carves.

Some of the fish decoys created by Curt Soine feature various birds, such as loons or in this case, a Canada geese. They are weighted and finned to swim in circles as decoys for spear fishers, but are also beautiful renditions of the featured bird species.
Some of the fish decoys created by Curt Soine feature various birds, such as loons or in this case, a Canada goose. They are weighted and finned to swim in circles as decoys for spear fishers, but are also beautiful renditions of the featured bird species.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Soine grew up in Maynard, the son of hardworking parents. He attended college before doing a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy. He returned to his home turf to complete a two-year drafting program at what is now the Minnesota West Technical and Community College in Granite Falls. A part-time job with United Parcel Service while he was a student led to a 30-year career with the company.

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Curt Soine enjoys the history and lore of decoy carving nearly as much as the art itself. He deliberately distresses some of his creations to mimic the appearance and look of the old-time decoys. Like the originals, all of his decoys are functionally and made for use, although many customers prefer to keep them dry and safe on display in their homes.
Curt Soine enjoys the history and lore of decoy carving nearly as much as the art itself. He deliberately distresses some of his creations to mimic the appearance and look of the old-time decoys. Like the originals, all of his decoys are functional and made for use, although many customers prefer to keep them dry and safe on display in their homes.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

It took him most of a summer to create that first swan for his wife, but it hooked him. He discovered that he enjoyed everything about carving. As an outdoorsman who enjoyed fishing and hunting, he loved the subjects of his works as well as the history and lore of decoy making.

He joined woodcarving clubs, took classes, read books and magazines on the art, and visited one-on-one with carvers from around the state. It wasn’t long before his works were winning attention — and ribbons and prizes — at woodcarving and decoy shows around the state.

Curt Soine is shown with a display of his works showing the variety and scope as well as the beauty of what he creates.
Curt Soine is shown with a display of his works, showing the variety and scope as well as the beauty of what he creates.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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He believes he has and continues to learn the most from other carvers.

“Most of the carvers don’t have any secrets,” he said. “They will tell you everything; (they’re) good at sharing and helping you every way they can.”

He works in a variety of woods, but sticks mostly to white pine for the fish decoys and white cedar and cork for the waterfowl. He creates a draft design of his work before carving.

Carving requires a steady hand and eye for detail, but it’s the visual that is the most important. Soine said he’s devoted a lot of his time and effort to mastering the use of the acrylics and, sometimes, the oil-based paints that he uses to complete the works.

Shore birds are a favorite for him. He also loves to experiment and create works for the fun of it. A friend drops off old hammers he picks up at auctions. Soine carves the handles into “hammer handles” with northern pike heads, a play on the term many anglers use for these fish.

He’s been retired from his career with UPS for more than 10 years now, and that has given him much more time to pursue his art. There is hardly a day where he doesn’t spend time in his shop.

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Paula no longer has to page through magazines to find wood carvings she likes. She has absolutely refused to allow some of his works out of the house, considering them too good to let go. Their home holds more than 30 “keepers.”

Fish decoys are meant to attract prey, but those crafted by Curt Soine are every bit as adept at attracting the human eye. These sunfish are examples of the bright hues and coloring he favors.
Fish decoys are meant to attract prey, but those crafted by Curt Soine are every bit as adept at attracting the human eye. These sunfish are examples of the bright hues and coloring he favors.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Soine feels his works have improved more in the past 10 years than all the years preceding. He remains as much a student of the art as ever.

“I’m getting better,” he said, “but still got a ways to go.”

Asked by one customer how long it took him to create the decoy that had caught his eye, Soine answered without hesitation: “Forty years.”

Curt Soine operates under the moniker "Curt's Decoys," a name and emblem that only hints at the scope of his works.
Curt Soine operates under the moniker "Curt's Decoys," a name and emblem that only hints at the scope of his works.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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