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Duck calls, art bring crowds to Wildlife festival

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Gary Ansell, owner of Killum Calls, demonstrates one of his many wooden carved duck decoys at his booth at the Currituck Wildlife Festival at Currituck County High School, Saturday. The festival continues today. See more photos from festival online at DailyAdvance.com.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, September 9, 2018

BARCO — After firing off a litany of duck calls on Saturday, Gary Ansell said the outdoors are meant to be experienced and enjoyed.

He's not the only person to share that sentiment at the 15th Annual Currituck Wildlife Festival. The festival continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Currituck County High School.

The Coinjock Ruritan Club sponsors the festival that features about 40 vendors this year, President Tom Oakes and organizer Rhonda Morris said Saturday morning. The club prides itself on drawing “top-notch” craftsmen who sell their own carvings, decoys, paintings, jewelry and other works, they explained.

Ansell is among those many craftsmen. Creator of Killum Calls, in Moyock, Ansell offers custom mouthpieces, in both wood and acrylic, for duck calls. A sound engineer by training, he said he understands frequencies and wanted to give hunters more options for mouthpieces. Just like with a musical instrument, the size and shape of a call's mouthpiece affects its sound, he said.

“Everybody's lips are different,” he said, adding someone jokingly called him a “duck scientist” once.

Ansell also recalled he's been hunting since the 1970s – and continued doing it even after getting accidentally shot.

Why is he an outdoorsman? Gratitude to God, he said.

“Enjoy what he's created,” Ansell said, referencing Genesis. He said God created the Earth and all its creatures, and they should be experienced. A person wouldn't just leave a new car in their garage, he joked.

A few booths across from Ansell, Deborah Tucker recounted her art is an inheritance. Her late mother was an art teacher, and so she grew up as the “sample child” her mother would teach various lessons to. That gave her a love and exposure to art that endures today, and so she paints in various media.

Resin-coated paintings made up most of her work on display Saturday. Tucker explains she takes various pieces of wood – ideally with a “live edge” with some bark still attached – and paints sea creatures on them, including fish, whales, octopuses and even mermaids.

“The shape of the wood tells me what to do with it,” she said. She continued that coating them with resin gives them a shine – colors “pop” more – and make them durable enough to sit outside.

Tucker also said she gets wood from all kinds of places. The business Wood Wizards, in Barco, offers her pieces, and she even “dumpster dives” or otherwise scavenges, she said.

“When a pier is falling apart, I'm there,” she joked.

Another returning painter Saturday is Gerald Putt, of Boiling Springs, Penn. His paintings are so detailed and realistic they've been used for states' duck stamps. On Saturday, he displayed paintings of diverse animal life, including beagle puppies, bald eagles, waterfowl, elk and more.

“I get inspired from customers, really,” Putt said, noting customers provide him a lot of suggestions.

Putt's paintings also employ vibrant colors that make animals stand out sharply. He credited the effect in part to always featuring animals on clear, sunny days.

“I don't paint cloudy, gloomy days; we have enough of those,” he said.

Though his paintings can take hundreds of hours, Putt said it remains the work he loves.

“I've done other things when I've had a 'real job', and that makes me keep painting,” he said.

Sharon Meade and Marissa Bijarro encourage people to get outdoors through education. Part of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, they were present Saturday to offer information about nature, and encourage “citizen science.”

Meade said exposing children to nature has a lot of benefits compared to staring at screens all day – it reduces stress, it's good for eyesight and even helps children with attention deficit disorder, she said.

Bijarro, who works in conservation, said she encourages people to help with wildlife research. One example is learning how to recognize frog calls. Reports on frog calls help monitor their populations, she said.

Bijarro also offered the festival's visitors facts on other animals, such as the benefits of bats.

This weekend's festival also celebrated another local artist: the late Wallace O'Neal Jr., a guide for fishermen on the Currituck Sound and a woodworker who made his own decoys, oars and skiffs, according to an article the Ruritan club shared about him. The festival features a different artist every year, Oakes said.

Wallace O'Neal IV, O'Neal's grandson, said he was honored the festival featured his grandfather, and explained a love of carving and the outdoors remains a family tradition.

Oakes said that proceeds from the festival, as well as the Currituck Arts and Crafts Festival on Dec. 1 and 2, help the Ruritan club raise thousands of dollars a year for community causes. That included $7,500 in scholarships last year, he said.

“We raise money to give it away,” he said.

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