Herald and Journal, Dec. 11, 2000

Pususta brothers carve lifelike decoys, earn nationwide recognition

By Lynda Jensen

Dozens of black, shiny eyes stare at visitors who happen to stop by to chat with Greg Pususta of Waverly, or John Pususta of Montrose.

The eyes belong to wildlife with hundreds of intricate feathers, colored plumage . . . or perhaps incredibly detailed scales or fins.

The Pususta brothers could very well be taxidermists, but they are not.

The wildlife they replicate are intricately carved with tools from several different kinds of wood.

World class wood carver Greg Pususta

Greg Pususta took his craft to the highest point possible recently, when he accepted awards from the Great Lakes Fish Decoy Association for two fish decoy wood carvings.

Greg took home a trophy about four feet tall for carving a miniature northern pike about five inches long (seen at right), which he entered in the service working decoy division. Greg also earned a silver award for carving a sunfish decoy in the decorative category (also pictured at right).

The two carvings earned Best of Show in their respective categories, and then the northern pike was selected as the world champion, above all other entries.

The miniature northern pike really works - as do all carvings in this kind of category. The decoy is actually tested in an aquarium at the competition, to see if it will list, or turn on its side, John said.

Depending on the curve in the tail, the decoy will swim in circles, either clockwise or counterclockwise, John said.

The decoy is hollow and weighted with lead, along with metal fins, John said.

This kind of decoy is used for spearfishing, although most decoys end up on a shelf.

Spearfishing is legal in six states: Alaska, Minnesota, South Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Montana. Otherwise, it's been outlawed since the turn of the century, John said.

Most spear fishermen are from Minnesota.

The Great Lakes Fish Decoy Association is the only competition in the nation to accept international entries, Greg said.

Greg claims several other awards, including several first place ribbons in the songbird division from the Northern Nationals. He also earned a number of second and third place ribbons as well, Greg said.

In 1996, Greg's carving of a turkey primary feather was chosen as the People's Choice Award at the Minnesota State National Wild Turkey Convention.

Although traditionally Greg's specialty is realistic carvings of bird decoys, he picked up carving fish decoys only a year ago from his brother, John.

The two brothers are fairly competitive and razz each other every so often. Greg has been carving for more than 22 years.

Nationally known wood carver John Pususta

John Pususta is an extraordinary wood carver in his own right, with a dozen first-place awards to his name from competitions around the state and nation.

John has only been carving since 1994. His specialty is fish carving.

During the same competition that Greg won world class recognition, John received the People's Choice award for an arctic grayling decoy, along with three first place awards, one second place and one third place for his decoys.

John claimed awards four years in a row from the Northern National Carving Competition in the spearing decoy category.

He took first place in 1999 and 1998 for his brown and rainbow trout decoys, as well as two second place awards for golden trout and brook trout decoys.

Earlier, John was awarded first place awards for brook trout decoy in 1996 and first place for a trout decorative pin category.

In 1997, John won third place for an arctic char decoy.

In fact, John heard about an older gentleman who speared a 24-pound northern pike in Saginaw Bay (near Lake Huron) using one of his arctic char decoys as bait.

He's also received recognition from the Minnesota National Wild Turkey Federation for his turkey friction calls.

The carved friction calls are designed with one piece being dragged across the other wooden piece, making a sound like a female turkey.

When John makes a decoy, he gives it a number depending on what piece it is for him that year. It takes him about a week to carve one piece.

He's carved every kind of fish imaginable, including trout, northern, muskie, pan fish and smelt.

His favorite is trout because they are so beautiful, he said.

Even though John has been watching Greg carve for years, he didn't start carving until his wife, Janine Holter, bought a portable ice fishing house.

He bought a folk-type decoy at H&H in Maple Lake, and it sparked his interest.

"I thought to myself 'I can do that," he said.

Folk decoys are one of the three ways to make them. There are working services decoys, which are plain looking, folk art decoys, which are more abstract and made of brighter colors, and realistic decorative working decoys.

The waters in Minnesota are murky compared with Wisconsin, John said. Therefore, serious fishermen may consider using the folk art decoys in Minnesota because their brightness attracts fish better.

Most recently, John was featured in Decoy Magazine, July/August 2000 and in the Minnesota Darkhouse Association newspaper November 1999.

Talent through the generations

Wood carving has been in the Pususta family for more than a generation.

The brothers' late uncle Jim Pususta, Waverly, was a blacksmith and used to make spears. He was legally blind and could not hear. Jim made about 30 spears or so during his lifetime.

The brothers' father, the late Charles Pususta, loved to carve duck boats and decoys. This tradition of hand carving continued with Greg and John.

Greg started in 1978, when he picked up a book about wildlife anatomy and starting making birds.

Next, he caught real fish and took photographs of them from all angles; close-ups, top view and the like.

The brothers make a plaster cast of the dimensions.

To match the specific color range of each fish, they use acrylic paint and their imaginations. They cover the finished product with clear epoxy enamel.

The wood used for decoys ranges from native basswood to walnut.

In fact, there is a sawmill on County Road 12 going toward Buffalo that the brothers purchase their wood from quite often, depending on what they are working on.

When they carve, both men use power tools that resemble dental equipment. "

You're supposed to keep your first 10 fish," John said. He has his first nine, he said.

The Internet makes it possible

Regardless of their talent, both men concede that they would never make it without the Internet.

Both men sell about 90 percent of their wares on eBay, which is an auction web site, for an average price of about $200 to 300 each.

The price often fluctuates, especially at the end of the auction, John said. "Most bidding happens in the last 10 minutes," John said.

One time he remembers a decoy going from $202 to $341 in 38 seconds, John said.

The brothers will put in a reserve or minimum price to sell for.

Most of the fish decoys go to Michigan, although they reach all portions of the United States, John said. "It's incredible," he said.

The Internet allows both of them to carve what their heart desires - giving them a great deal of creative input into what they carve - rather than being commissioned into a piece that they may or may not care to do, John said.

It also allows them to live in small town, while still having access to buyers nationwide.

For those interested in seeing the process or how John sells on the Internet, go to: Ebay and search for "carverboy" in the seller category.

John's web site is www.lkdllink.net/~holtusta. Greg's web site is www.lkdllink.net/~gbp.

Greg's seller name on eBay is known as "Kingeider," named after a sea duck, he said.

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