Ernie’s a retired pulpwood cutter in the Newberry area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula who has been carving fish decoys since about 1950. He and his brother, both bachelors, are hardy industrious self-sufficient folk as is typical of the region. They hunt and fish, raise their own beef, grow all their own vegetables and preserve the excess for those long cold U.P. winters. He made a few fish decoys during the ‘50s and another couple dozen in 1961 and then stopped until 1981 when he met local dealer, Al Larsen, who encouraged him to start carving again. Since then he has been quite active, carving on average 50 or so decoys each winter when he has his seasonal layoff. The money he earns from the decoy carving is reserved for “going to town on Saturday night for some fun”.
His earliest (pre-1956) decoys are very simple streamlined shapes with metal tails, screw eye line ties, and simple spotted paint patterns. In 1956, when Ernie graduated from high school, he received 5 fish decoys made by his uncle, Ed Muringer, the noted Glennie, Michigan carver, as a graduation gift. These seem to have influenced his style as those made after this date exhibit very similar qualities; curved wooden, slightly cupped tails, more detailed carving, more elaborate paint jobs, better formed fins, etc. The 25 he made in 1961 have these improvements.
When he began carving again in 1981 his first fish followed this same pattern, but when a collector gave him a set of fish posters published by Windsor Publications he soon changed to a more realistic style in both form and paint. He also changed to a twisted wire line-tie and began filling around the belly lead for a smoother more finished appearance. He prefers white pine but does occasionally use cedar and basswood. Fins are aluminum, paints are enamels, and current production have glass eyes in contrast to the earlier no eye or painted on eye. The earliest pieces of this new production were unsigned but in the late 1980s he began initialing them under the chin with “EP”. About 1998 he changed the location of the initials to the underside of the fin and also added the year. Mr. Peterson is a shy and very private man who doesn’t take well to visitors. He does business exclusively through a small group of dealers who market his work.
Information above provided by Gary Miller