Willie Badeaux has carved thousands of birds over his lifetime – a lifetime spent on the waters of Bayou Gauche.
As he describes his artistic process and talks about his wood carving accomplishments, Badeaux is quick to dismiss terms like “expert” and “legend” that others in his shop throw out to describe him – but one look at his wheelhouse of work and it’s clear to see that his carvings speak for themselves.
Badeaux creates duck decoys so realistic that they could easily be mistaken for live animals and has a level of expertise so rare and extraordinary that most would come to the same conclusion – there is a wood carving legend whose shop sits just above the Bayou des Allemands water.
As Badeaux speaks nonchalantly of his world-renowned and award-winning artwork, his friends in the studio just chuckle to themselves. He wins something at almost every contest he enters, they say, and he has a gift to teach anyone who has a desire to learn.
Badeaux said he would love to take on more students – especially young children – and teach them how to carve.
“All my students have died on me,” he said laughing.
Badeaux said on most days he wakes up early – around 4 a.m. – and heads into his shop that is just a stone’s throw away from his house. Word carving was something he observed from family members and learned from trial and error, he said.
“If I can’t see the bird in the tree, I don’t cut it,” he said with a sly grin. “Carving is all about getting that bird out of that block of wood.”
While birds are what he’s most famous for, Badeaux has also made a habit out of carving turtles, fish, and just about any other thing he grew up seeing.
“I’ve lived a lot off the land,” he said. “Hunting…fishing…alligators…Troy Landry ain’t got nothing on me.”
Badeaux was not spared from Hurricane Ida’s destruction. He said he lost all of the birds in his freezer – birds that he would pull out to study and use as guides in creating his decoys.
“That way you can get all the feather layouts,” he said. “You don’t guess … everything has to be right.”
Badeaux also grew up making boats, most notably one that was part of the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Several of his boats are now on display at the Old State Capitol and the Jean Lafitte Museum in Thibodaux.
Paula Wilson, Badeaux’s daughter, said her father’s greatest joy would be to teach the younger generation about wood carving so that someone could carry it on long after he is gone.
“His love for this art form has allowed him to teach many students over the years how to carve and paint, which brings these pieces of wood cut from Tupelo trees found in the swamp to life,” she said. “He recently made a comment to me that it’s a lost art.”
Badeaux said anybody can learn about wood carving.
“In the water now just down there there’s some downed trees just waiting for something to be created out of,” he said pointing out of his studio window.
To learn more about taking classes with Badeaux call 985-991-6650.
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