The Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers and Collectors guild recently held its 37th annual Louisiana Wildfowl Festival at the Castine Center in Mandeville. Carving competitions for the novice, amateur and professional as well as competitions in fine arts and photography categories took place.

Ducks are inspirations for human actions, often being compared to humans who make work appear seamless and easy. They look smooth on the surface while paddling like crazy underneath. This is a fair comparison to the people who care so much about the continued operation of the LWCCG.

They spend most of the year in preparation for the annual festival which attracts carvers, artists and photographers from across the United States.

“Everyone seemed to enjoy the festival, and we were pleased that all competition category entries were up as was attendance,” said Joan Bonner, who coordinates the children’s art competition each year.

Even the joyful entries in the children’s art category increased from 148 entries in 2013 to 236 entries in 2014. St. Tammany students and their parents were quite proud to have their works on display in age categories of 5-8, 9-11, 12-14 and 15-19 years old. First-place winners in respective categories were a pelican by Shane Hardee and a red-headed woodpecker by Madison Hardee, both from Folsom Elementary. In the 12-14 year old category, the northern mockingbird by Christian Weicks, of Folsom Junior High, won first, and in the age 15-19 group first place went to Emily Reiners, of Lakeshore High, for her swallowtail.

For adult artists, the pieces on display were spectacular. First place in fine art was awarded to Eileen McCarroll, of Albany; second place to Reuel Plaisance, of Raceland; third place to Robert Post, of Harvey; and honorable mention to Mickey Asche, of Picayune, Mississippi. Judges sought not only beauty and talent but also reality of the environment and the species.

In photography, there were two winners, with first and third place going to Marie Celino, of Covington, and second and honorable mention going to J.W. Nichols, from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Three of the four winners were coincidentally photos of blue herons and one of a squirrel by Nichols.

But the real basis of the event is the wood carving, which is the festival’s driving force. The Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers & Collectors Guild is a nonprofit organization dedicated not only to the preservation of Louisiana wetlands, but also to the tradition of decoy carving, which is part of the culture of Southern Louisiana. It is one of the first truly American art forms, and Louisiana has always been at the forefront of this tradition.

LWCCG was the second show in the country dedicated to this art form. There are more World Champion and Master Carvers from Louisiana than any other state. Carvers who meet and learn under the tutelage of master carver Mike Bonner say that they find the art to be precise and fulfilling.

In order to win, carved art has to be an exact replica of the actual species, and ducks have to balance perfectly to float. Judging decoys includes floating and monitoring level balance in water. A team including Dick Bonner, Byron Theriot and Dave Van Lanen inspected this aspect of decoys.

In an event that offers over $40,000 in prize money, the competition is intense for 75 categories of carving competition, and in most cases one would be hard pressed to discern the difference between real and carved. In a most prestigious area of expression sponsored by Conoco Phillips Co., the Best in Gulf South ($14,000 Purchase Award), the first-place winner was Todd Wohlt, of Appleton, Wisconsin, for a pair of blue birds on mullein. Second place went to Gary Eigenberger, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, for a pair of saw-whet owls, and third to Dick Bonner, of New Orleans, for a pair of flying redheads.

Dick Bonner believes that the future of LWCCG lies with young people continuing to be interested in hand-done art, love of nature and hunting. He explained, “To this end, we have encouraged Boy Scouts to carve duck heads ... to earn their merit badges at our show. We have kids studying and painting birds too. We started these projects since Katrina, and they have grown every year, and the kids seem very enthusiastic in participating.”

LWCCG’s monthly meetings are held on the last Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at Picadilly Cafeteria, 2222 Clearview Parkway, in Metairie. Everyone is welcome to join in a great opportunity to learn, participate, meet with friends, show your carvings and even win a door prize.

They will soon get in the swim of things to begin planning for next year’s festival, and those LWCCG feet will be paddling below the surface again.

For information, visit Louisiana Wildfowl Carvers & Collectors Guild on Facebook or www.LWCCG.com.

Kathleen DesHotel writes about the cultural arts in St. Tammany. To reach her, email kathleenfocused@gmail.com.