In my occupation one meets a lot of exotic animals and sometimes really out-of-the-ordinary people. In 1995 the Smithsonian in Washington hired me to do murals for a Duck Stamp exhibit. Apparently Duck Stamps are like a Federal license for hunting migratory water fowl.
Duck stamps are about the size of a dollar bill, can cost up to $25 each and are highly collectible because of the fierce competition among wildlife artists to have their illustration chosen for the annual stamp.
After meeting the exhibit staff at the Smithsonian “castle,” we walked a few blocks to the exhibit fabrication shop, where I was introduced to my handlers. I was startled to see a portly woman’s head, very lifelike, resting on a work bench. Nearby was a standing manikin of an equally portly body coated in carving foam.
One of the staffers explained, “Mrs. X,” (fortunately I can’t remember her name) “widow of Senator X, who purportedly owned most of Tennessee, is a good ol’ gal. She’s funding the entire exhibit because most of the stamps are from her collection. When we showed her the exhibit plans, she asked us to include a representation of herself dressed for her favorite activity, hunting turkeys. She’s even volunteered to donate her favorite shotgun for the manikin to hold.” He picked up the head by the hair.
“We showed her the finished product last week. She said, ‘Knock off a couple o’ pounds here and there, and change the wig from grey to red, that was my original color. And lose some of those crow’s feet ’round the eyes.’
“We said, ‘You’re the boss,’ and that’s what we’re doing.”
I watched an artisan starting to carve the foam contours of the manikin with an electric carving knife.
When the exhibit was done, I got to meet Mrs. X when she came through with some final comments. She looked at my forest and wetland murals and smiled.
“Marvelous, young man, but there’s one thing I’d like you to do for me.”
“Add a few more ducks, Ma’am?” I asked.
“Naw, honey. See that dark place right over there in the woods? I want you to stick a turkey in there. Can you do that for me?”
“Sure,” I said, “you’re the boss.”
She then proudly, and loudly, demonstrated her turkey call, to the amazement of everyone in the room.
“I can fool any Tom in Tennessee,” she boasted. And we all believed her.