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A simple man, an extraordinary talent

A. Elmer Crowell

Courtesy of the Harwich Historical Society

Crowell married Laura Linwood Doane, also of Harwich, who died in 1925 at the age of 56 of a cerebral hemorrhage. His only child, son Cleon, worked alongside him for many years and became an excellent bird carver in his own right. Occasionally, the father-and-son team would create and sell weathervanes or take on odd carpentry jobs. “He’d remodel a place,” Harmon says, “and give the owner a decoy as a memento.” For the most part, though, Crowell was a rare talent whose skill, timing, and luck allowed him to devote his entire adult life to his passions for hunting and carving birds.

In 2005, Harmon worked to establish the A.E. Crowell American Bird Decoy Foundation, of which he serves as both director and president. “We’d love to have our own museum,” says Harmon, “but now we work with other museums and exhibitions.” The foundation’s greatest achievement thus far has been its work to relocate and rebuild the barn where Crowell carved nearly all his birds. Crowell used to call this structure his “songless aviary,” but for many years, the humble building in Harwich had been falling deeper into disrepair. “They were going to knock it down,” Harmon says. “We raised money and made arrangements to save the barn. We really got it done just in the nick of time to pull the whole thing off.”

The renovation of the A. Elmer Crowell Barn on the grounds of the Harwich Historical Society at 80 Parallel Street in Harwich is nearly complete; the workshop is open to the public from late June through early October. Many hands worked on this project, notably David Ottinger, the contractor; Patti Smith, who wrote the grant proposal; Sharon Mabile, the owner of the old Crowell homestead who donated the barn to the society; and Jim Parker. A Sandwich resident, Parker is a bird carver, a consultant to auction houses, and a Crowell historian. Of the barn, Parker says, “I took it apart with some friends back in 2008. I marked all the boards so it could be put back together.” Until 2014, the building, in its many pieces, lived in a container trailer housed in Sandwich waiting for a home. Other sites were contacted, but, Parker says, “It turned out that the Harwich Historical Society was the best place for it.”

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