Delbert “Cigar” Daisey, born in 1928, lived and worked in Chincoteague, Virginia. A multitalented young man, he worked as the instrument man on a survey crew for thirteen years, fished in the summers, and hunted wildfowl in the winters. His first decoys were a rig made with his father, Herbert Daisey, in 1941, using a recycled World War II submarine raft. He describes his early carving career as “making decoys on the side,” in combination with other jobs, but he finally began carving as a full-time career in the 1960s.
His nickname was given to him by a game warden when he lost some cigars while stealing ducks from the warden’s traps (some say he left the cigars to taunt the warden, but we may never know). One of the last surviving people who made a living as a market hunter, Daisey became an avid conservationist later in his life, serving as the resident carver at Chincoteague Island’s Refuge Waterfowl Museum.
Cigar Daisey was instrumental in assisting William F. Mackey build the collection of decoys he documented in Mackey’s 1987 book American Bird Decoys, considered the classic survey by one of the most influential collectors of his time. Daisey has told many stories of the truckloads of decoys he rounded up for his good friend.
Daisey’s own decoy carvings are recognized for both their artist value and function as working decoys. His works include black ducks, mallards, redheads, red-breasted mergansers (locally known as “hairy heads”), and his most well-known decoy, the ruddy duck, often crafted in pairs. The only fully decorative decoy he has ever made is a 1973 pintail, created as a present for his wife. The piece was featured in National Geographic in June 1980. Its value has been estimated at $150,000. His work appears in the Smithsonian Institution, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, and the Chincoteague Refuge Waterfowl Museum. Cigar passed away in April 2017.