“Probably but few people, comparatively, are aware of the artistic line of work under daily execution by Elmer Crowell of East Harwich, assisted by his son Cleon. The productions form a beautiful collection of all kinds of birds and some fish, whittled out of wood and embellished in native tints so true to the original that experts often are deceived in distinguishing between the real bird and the decoy.”

– Harwich Independent, February 23, 1927

Now you can explore the story of the Harwich bird carver Anthony Elmer Crowell at his newly reconstructed barn on the grounds of Brooks Academy Museum in Harwich. The barn features the workshop of the now world famous carver, furnished as it was during Crowell’s day, along with audiovisual and photographic displays, tools, and bird-carving demonstrations. Sponsored by the Town of Harwich, the project was funded by a grant from Community Preservation Funds. Reconstruction was done by David Ottinger, Antique Buildings & Materials.

Anthony Elmer Crowell (1862-1952) was born into a family of mariners and cranberry farmers. As a boy, Elmer was captivated by the outdoors and as many young men of the period did, he was always whittling.

Crowell set the decorative bird carving and painting standards, which many of today’s best carvers are still trying to emulate. Just over 100 years ago, he went into business on Route 39, five miles east of the Brooks Academy Museum. Elmer was 50 years young at the time, and while he had been carving and selling decoys and decorative bird carvings of all types prior to that date, it is generally accepted that 1912 was the year when he began. He worked nine to five, six days a week, carving birds, decoys, and decorative fish plaques; building duck boats; and producing flat art.

Also a talented carver, Elmer’s son, Cleon Stanley (1891-1961), joined the shop in the 1920s, eventually taking over when Elmer’s rheumatism forced him to stop carving. Cleon continued the business until his death.

News of their talent and reputation spread quickly across North America and the world. Customers included Henry Ford, W. H. Hoover, the du Ponts, Storrow, Saltonstall, Spaulding, Fleishman, The Royals in England, and many more. All this acclaim and adulation for a humble Harwich native carving masterpieces in an old shed wing of a barn on Route 39 in East Harwich.

Information courtesy Ted Harmon, President, A.E. Crowell American Bird Decoy Foundation. For more information, please contact the Society at harwichhistoricalsociety.org