Grayson Chesser

Grayson Chesser

Grayson Chesser epitomizes the carving traditions of Virginia's Eastern Shore. He grew up the son of a game warden and hunter from the town of Sanford. He spent much of his childhood duck hunting in the marshes around the Chesapeake Bay and collecting hand-carved decoys the way other boys take up model cars.

Today he is one of the most respected decoy carvers of his generation, having learned carving at the feet of masters like Cigar Daisy and Miles Hancock. As kids I went to school with, Grayson often tells, they all wanted to grow up to be the next quarterback for the Baltimore Colts. Me, I always dreamed of being a decoy carver and goose guide.

Mr. Chesser’s decoys are highly valued on the collector's market, but his preference is still to carve decoys for hunting purposes. In 1995 Mr. Chesser wrote the definitive guide to decoy carving, Making Decoys the Centuries-Old Way.

He became a game warden himself and has a lifetime of experence both hunting and regulating the hunting grounds of the region. He and his wife Dawn run the Holden Creek Gun Club in Sanford. Mr. Chesser has paid homage to those who taught him in his youth by participating in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program. His interest and commitment to teaching the nuances of this tradition are what make him such an invaluable part of the carving community of the region. AI really feel guilty getting paid when I teach someone how to carve because all of those guys (the old masters) taught me for free. I have been able to live pretty much the same way people lived since the Shore was settled. I have been so fortunate to be able to do what I wanted to do all my life, and so few people get to do that in the world today.

Virginia's Eastern Shore has a rich history of wildfowl carving. Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Chesapeake Bay on the west, the Virginia counties of Northampton and Accomack attract an abundance of migrating and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. The thirteen low-lying barrier islands were favorite hunting spots, and as a result market gunning and decoy making became a major way of life for early Eastern Shore inhabitants. With the passing of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918 and the destruction of most of the hunting lodges of the area in large storms, most have forgotten about the rich and illustrious hunting past of the Eastern Shore. Although the trades of guide and market gunner are all but gone, the tradition lives on in decoy carving.

Mr. Chesser's work is held in the highest regard, not just for the lineage of the maker, but for its artistic merit and quality. His working decoys reflect the regional characteristics of the Eastern Shore of Virginia style, yet possess the distinctive style of Grayson Chesser.

Grayson Chesser shares his dedication to the waterfowling traditions of the Eastern Shore through his work with the hunting lodge, his work with other carvers, and his appointment to the Board of Supervisors for Accomack County, where he weighs in on public policy concerning the needs of the community from land use and zoning to education and health care.

2009 Virginia Heritage Award Winners