Follow the Road to Kroghie's House
LLA Decoy Director Robbie Smith describes his decoy collecting mentor Kroghie Andresen as the Wizard of Oz of decoys. So it's only fitting that when we visited Smith in his hometown, all roads led to Kroghie. And what did we find along the way? Puppies. Lots and lots of puppies.
Our first stop along the decoy road was Robbie Smith's own home in the charming Charlotte suburb of Waxhaw. An easy 20 minutes outside of Charlotte, Waxhaw is one of those old mill towns that has found new life in recent decades. We were enthusiastically greeted at Smith's house by Honey, Smith's hunting-hound-turned-family-pup, because, as Smith says "that's what happens when you have a wife and two daughters."
As you would expect at the house of someone with a professional-level interest in duck decoys, birds by Smith's favorite carvers like James Best and Mitchell Fulcher are perched on every shelf and mantel in Smith's home. Like a good decoy should, these ducks and geese blend tastefully into the landscape. Possibly because, as Smith tells it, in order to keep things balanced on the domestic front, a new goose might now and then need to be accompanied by a set of Limoges china for his wife.
After getting our bearings at Smith's, we set out on our pilgrimage in earnest. First stop, Waxhaw's award-winning bakery, Virtuoso Breadworks, for sustenance. Smith takes all his decoy pilgrims to Virtuoso, for a symbiotic exchange of ducks for pastries. The bakery doles out cozy ambiance, warm small-town personality, and carbohydrates as God meant them to be, and in turn Robbie gifts the bakery decoy mascots. The staff dutifully names their ducks and watches the last LLA decoy auctions on their phones while they work.
With bellies full of brioche and bacon, we floated out of Virtuoso and over to Smith's office off Waxhaw's unbelievably quaint Main St. Fittingly situated in an old livestock auction building, it's the space we all dream of - filled with decoys, guitars, sporting art, and anything else that makes Smith's heart beat a little faster. We stayed just long enough for Leland (yes, that Leland) to casually pick up a guitar and break into song. Wait for it, folks, we may yet be allowed to let you listen to the recording.
Baked goods, an impromptu cowboy music concert, what could possibly come next on the road to the Wizard of Decoys other than.......puppies? Thankfully, Smith's father Lanny Smith and his wife Vicki have just bred a litter of eight Boykin Spaniel pups. In a few weeks the dogs will go to homes all over the country, where many of them will be trained into world-class hunting dogs. In the meantime, however, they were available for cooing, snuggling, and romping. Boykin Spaniels are the state dog of South Carolina, where the breed was developed in the early 1900s as a smaller retriever that could accompany hunters in the boats they used to hunt waterfowl in the Wateree River Swamp. We have no doubt that all eight of these dogs will be top-notch retrievers, but for our purposes, extreme cuteness was all that was required.
If you aren't ready to meet the Wizard after a day full of food, music, and baby animals, you never will be. With visions of buying our own Boykin Spaniels dancing in our heads, we set off on the last leg of our journey - to Kroghie's house. A short drive in the middle of a gas shortage later, we were at the home of the man who has made it his mission to bring legitimacy and integrity to the historied world of southeastern decoys. Until Kroghie Andresen literally wrote the book on the decoys made and used in North Carolina's Outer Banks, these decoys took a back seat to the decoys of the Northeast, regardless of the fact that the most famous hunters of the Northeast (does the name Teddy Roosevelt ring a bell?) came to our fair shores to start their gunning clubs.
Kroghie was as welcoming and knowledgeable as promised. We learned so much from him that, well, it'll have to wait for its own story. If you come back soon, we'll let you in on what we found when the wizard pulled back the curtain. Every person on our journey to Kroghie's house told us we could never be prepared for what we'd find there. We couldn't agree more. To be continued........