“I’m just sitting here outside my R.V. looking at the beach while carving and painting a duck,” joked Tom Goddard over the phone.
The former Blue Springs High School activities director says he has made an expedition to the city with the nation’s best weather, San Diego, each winter for nine of the past 10 years. Usually around mid-November, he and his wife hop in that R.V. that pulls a big trailer from their Lake Tapawingo home to visit his stepdaughter and grandson where it’s usually sunny on the West Coast.
“I don’t scoop snow anymore,” Goddard said, laughing. “It hurts my back.”
However, it was not Goddard’s intention to make freezing Eastern Jackson County readers jealous by boasting about staying at an ideal locale in the middle of January, but instead he wanted to converse about a lifelong interest that recently turned into a nationally recognized achievement: Decorative duck decoy carving.
Tom is the 2013 Novice Decorative Carver of the Year, an honor awarded by the International Wildfowl Carvers Association. The IWCA has approximately 700 members from all parts of the globe who produce different kinds of wildlife art. In just five short years since Goddard became fully dedicated to his hobby, he has been awarded several blue ribbons and best-in-shows along with being IWCA’s 2013 Carver of the Year from his 40-plus decoys.
“I always wanted to do it, and I did it,” Goddard says about decoy carving, adding that he always had an interest in woodworking since his college days. “A hundred years ago, I was either finishing cabinets or working on other wood-related projects. I took some woodshop courses while majoring in physical education.”
But as fate would have it, Goddard spent the next 35 years in public education. He began his career at age 25 as the head basketball coach at Raytown High School, where he earned five district championships and advanced the team to their one and only state final four spot in 1975 during a 22-year span.
One day in 1987 he came across a duffel bag filled with carving tools in his attic. But he had to set aside his wood carving passion once again as he became the activities director of Blue Springs High School that same year.
“We were the largest high school in the state at that time,” recalls Goddard. “I think we had about 3,200 students total – 1,600 in the ninth and 10th grade building, and the other half at the 11th and 12th grade building.”
Eventually another high school was constructed in response to the growth. In 1992, Blue Springs South High School opened its doors, and Goddard semi-retired four years later. “I became the part-time activities director at the new Delta Woods Middle School and fully retired in 2003.”
Finally, in 2007, Goddard had the time to devote to his love of woodworking. Being an avid duck and goose hunter himself, he took an interest in decoy carvings and began searching for books about the craft on the Internet.
Tom says his hobby is all self-taught. “I had no formal art class or training,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do it until I started. I have no idea where the skill came from. If someone said I could paint and carve a duck 15 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed.”
The decoy carving process takes about 80 hours, he says. First he studies pictures of various species of ducks, especially their feather colors and markings. The goal, he said, is to try to make them look as real as possible. Then, he puts a pattern on a block of either basswood or tupelo gum wood that he cuts with a bandsaw.
“They are real light woods that hold the detail," he said. "But they both have their cons with real fine edges capable of breaking, and the basswood tends to fuzz up where you find yourself cleaning the crevices more or it will show through the painting.”
After cutting the patterned block that forms a rough shape of a duck, he begins to smooth it with grinders and other tools. He later hollows it out with a drill press and adds lead weight inside in order for his decoys to float. “When you submit them to a competition, they have to float.”
Goddard said both the carving and painting processes take about the same amount of time, around 40 hours each. “Both get kind of tedious,” he said. “But I feel l get a little better with each one.” He also says that he spends about two to six hours daily carving or painting decoys.
He also sought inspiration by contacting a world champion wildlife woodcarver and former Brooklyn Dodger, Jim Sprankle. “I emailed him and he sent me a couple copies of his books. He’s my hero and was so down-to-earth. I acquired his process, and my base of knowledge originally came from his work.” Tom said that Sprankle even has a full-sized bald eagle carving on display at the U.S. Capitol. “The more resources you have, the better your carving.”
By 2009, Goddard was confident to send his decoy carvings to competitions all across the country. “I choose my duck and put in a package with extra padding and send them to either Ohio, Oregon or here in California.” He won the blue ribbon for best of species on a wood duck that he carved. Later on in that same year, he won best-in-show for a green-winged teal. Over the next few years, he won best-in-show for a wood duck he sent to an Ohio show and another for a green-winged teal.
The self-proclaimed budding carver says he has only visited one of these competitions in California and was amazed at the sheer detail of some of the decoy carvings.
“There are three kinds of categories a carver can enter in a competition,” Goddard says. “A novice, intermediate, or open (advanced). About 500 of them are novice and the rest have been carving their entire lives. I decided to focus in being a novice until I won and then advanced to the next rank.” He also added they have a separate fish carving competition where “they look real enough to jump into the water” along with other wildlife paintings and artwork.
Despite the winning streak, Goddard said he took a brief hiatus either around 2011 or 2012, when he spent most of his time restoring a 1953 Chevy pickup. But in 2013, he came back in full force by entering six decoys for competition. He entered six ducks: wood ducks, ruddy ducks and other species.
On how he became the 2013 Carver of the Year, Goddard said all the IWCA-sponsored competitions held across the country work like a race car circuit, in which time you place, you accumulate a certain amount of points. Last year, he won two best of shows, three second best of shows and one third best of show award, accumulating a total of 270 points. The runner up had 150.
Overall, Goddard says he’s just having fun with his decoy carving hobby and is blessed to have the time to do so. This year he will advance to the intermediate echelon, in which he will continue to specialize in carving both marsh and sea ducks. “But there’s no going back to novice.”
These days, the San Diego R.V. park where he resides in the winter offered to let him use a work shed for his passion. As for selling the decoys, “I had a few offers, but I'd rather have them in competitions beforehand.” One time when he and his wife were walking along a bay that was filled with various ducks, they bumped into a couple carrying expensive camera equipment. They later talked and found out the wife photographs ducks. “The photos are incredible. We worked out a deal where I carve her a decoy for photos.”
Come mid March, waking up to the salty air comes to an end for Tom and his wife as they make the long haul back to Lake Tapawingo. However, they take their time returning by visiting various sites and landmarks all across the western United States on the way back. “Oh we do a lot of hiking and sight-seeing, depending on the weather. We like to hike the Grand Canyon, especially.”
Tom recalls one time when his wife asked him why he used to duck hunt all those years ago, yet considers the waterfowl “beautiful.”
“Because they’re good eatin’, too.”
Tom Goddard will receive his 2013 Novice Carver of the Year Award next month in California.