The partnership Hewey, Dewey, and Louie Decoys were by carvers Robert “Maddog” Billings of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, George Kustin and John Sugent also of Wisconsin.
They used an Underlined K as their identifier of their decoys.
Robert “Maddog” Billings was born in 1936 in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. He carved and sold over 5,000 bird & fish decoys under the name of Hewey, Dewey & Lewey. Robert is living in Minocqua, Wisconsin now (2008) and he signed many of his decoys with a RB (back to back monogram).
Slade, Robert A. The History & Collectible Fishing Tackle of Wisconsin, Muskego, Wisconsin: Bob & Tess Slade, 1999. (Helpful entries on the Artic Fisherman Co., Robert “Mad Dog” Billings and Blackhawk Enterprises)
It is reported in the above book that Robert was the master carver and George Kustin and John Sugent copied his patterns and then the were sold under the HDL-(S) and HDL-(K) depending on the co-operative effort of the maker. George Kustin is living in Woodstock, IL (2008). George is now selling on eBay and uses the name of gecko891. He told me that he as well as the others were heavily involved in decoy carving, buying, selling and trading. He got out of the race years ago as his hands deteriorated and for other reasons, he has lost contact with Robert Billings and did not know as of early 2008 if Robert Billings was still living, but he did confirm that John Sugent was still living and in the Chicago area.
Here is an email from George:
Here is some info for you on Hewey, Dewey, Louie decoys.
HDL decoys as a group started about 1984 made up of 3 guys who met riding commuter trains to and from Chicago. We all at some time had been doing some carving during the rain rides of one odd piece or another and eventually began making a point of sitting together and carving or drawing while on the train. Eventually, we began getting together at each others houses and carving or painting larger and more elaborate pieces. The group was Bob (Mad Dog) Billings, John Sugent and George Kustin. We would occasionally be joined by others with similar interests.
As an outlet for our works, we would travel around to various shows in the Midwest, and eventually the East Coast, selling our items, buying items that interested us and selling or trading other goods. A lot of the decoys involved were water fowling decoys but as that market became crazy, we expanded into fish decoys, decorative items and some general hunting or fishing goods. Billings providing carving and painting guidance since he had the most experience. We sold our own items- sometimes in unfinished condition- to any number of buyers, collectors, etc.
Our carvings went all the way from simple small fishing decoys, waterfowl pieces up to the size of full bodied geese, decorative birds, fishing and hunting signs and even large Sturgeon decoys up to 4ft long. Painting and carving went from simple to highly detailed. Most work can be identified with either branded, carve or painted initials RB, GK, JS or sometimes a combination or initials if Kustin made the body and Billings painted it, it might have KB or RK initials. Of course, there were a number of carvings that had no identifying initials either or may have been made or painted by one of the occasional members of the group. Styles may have been imitative (not counterfeit) of old works or contemporary. In other words, we were not into making fakes to sell as authentic.
The group eventually broke up through retirement, boredom and inertia around 1993. Personally, I got bad carpal tunnel so gave it up. I have only 4/5 of my own carvings now along with some pictures. Billings took a lot of the output and opened up a shop in Wisconsin.
That’s about the best info I can offer you. We did have a carved sign that we used, but no-one can recall what happened to it. The attached pictures offer some idea of the fish variety.
Photos courtesy of George Kustin one of the HDL Carvers