Members of the Baton Rouge-based Pelican Wood Carvers’ Guild are often surrounded by piles of wood shavings, but on Saturday, they collected piles of soap.
It’s a great teaching tool for children, said guild President David Oubre, as he and other guild members patiently taught children of all ages how to carve a simple duck out of a soap bar.
“Ivory and Dial,” said Oubre. “Ivory is a little brittle sometimes, but Dial is softer; it’s really good for carving,” he said, demonstrating how to form duck feathers in the soap with the teeth of a plastic knife, their carving tools. “It’s much safer for them this way,” Oubre said, and cleanup is easy — just add water.
Carving intimidates some people, he said, because they don’t feel up to the challenge. “But you can make a carving as simple or as complicated as you want,” he said.
It was the guild’s contribution to Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center’s Duck, Duck Goose Day, an event that celebrates the work and long tradition of the area’s waterfowl decoy carvers, center Director Claire Coco said.
“We have a nice collection of antique decoys, and as I was putting them together in collections, I could tell that some decoys looked alike, even though they were made in different time periods. I realized that they were carved by different generations of the same families, using the same techniques,” Coco said. “And then I thought, this is a tradition that is going away. People aren’t learning to do this anymore.”
While wood-carving enthusiasts and collectors perused the collections, children took advantage of games and crafts to learn more about the natural habitat of their state and about the duck-carving tradition that goes along with the Sportsman’s Paradise.
In addition to carving, children also could participate in duck painting, and a duck pond in which they could pick a floating duck toy and exchange it for a prize.
There also were live ducklings and educational games for older children, Coco said.
Jill Bercegeay and Marina Norris brought their children out for a day of family-friendly fun.
“We’re always looking for things to do with the kids,” Bercegeay said. “We went around to all the stations,” she said as she kept one eye on her twins Luke and Julia, both 5, and 2-year-old Avery. Norris was there with her 4-year-old, Ava. Luke asked to touch one of the ducklings and reported that their heads were very, very soft.
“Yes, we’ve got our soap duck, too. We will be using it for baths,” she said.
For the older children, the LSU Agricultural Center’s Youth Wetlands program set up a choose-your-own-adventure-type game based on the migration patterns of the green-winged teal, a water bird that makes use of Louisiana’s wetlands.
Mindy Brooks, an outreach specialist for the AgCenter, said this bird covers a lot of ground every year, with a range from Canada to South America.
Children started at station one and chose a game card that would send them on the green-winged teal’s adventure. Some would be caught in a mylar balloon string and would be cut loose by a fisherman; some would hit an oil spill or get blown off course by a hurricane.
“We want to make the public aware of what happens to these birds and how both humans and natural disasters can affect them,” she said.
Down one of the center’s nature trails, staff had set up a set of duck cutouts in the swamp. Children and their parents could walk the trail with a duck identification card and pick out the different species they saw on their walk.
“It’s all about giving people a chance to appreciate what we have here in Louisiana and the traditions that came from those resources,” Coco said.
About 1,000 people attended, she said.