COAT OF MANY DUCK HEADS

In this cabinet at the Stuttgart Agricultural Museum off highway 165 (921 East 4th St) in Stuttgart hangs the "Coat of Many Feathers." The Coat goes on my list of Arkansas Wonders.

Shiela Stoner of the museum staff tells me the Coat was made by the late Ruby Abel of Stuttgart, two-time woman's world champion duck caller (1963 & 1967), owner of the Sportsman's Restaurant, professional duck dresser (in more ways than one), farm labor union organizer and game show contestant. The Coat is likely to be the greenest thing you'll ever look at.

In Ms. Abel's capacity as a professional duck dresser (That's somebody who yanks the feathers off of and the guts out of ducks.), she collected 450 mallard heads. Kathleen Mahfous (Ms. Abel's niece) says that over the course of a year Ruby painstakingly skinned the heads, tanned the hides and hand-stitched them together to make a coat. The lining of the coat was cut from a conventional pattern.

The Coat is an eyepopper, no question about it, a kind of extravagant, labor-intensive, resource-inefficient, locality-specific, one-off that in an earlier age would be presented as a gift from one mighty king to another in the course of diplomacy. Here in America, though, Ruby wore it herself and from time to time loaned it to friends. On two occasions in the mid 1960's she wore the Coat in New York City when she appeared as a contestant on the television game shows "To Tell the Truth" and "What's My Line?"

The duck feather hat that appears in the display was also made by Ms. Abel. Kathleen mentioned that Ruby used duck feathers frequently in her arts and crafts, fashioning duck feather flower arrangements in addition to articles of clothing.

Stuttgart is the duck hunting capital of the world. The World's Championship Duck Calling Contest is held here each Thanksgiving, and globally renowned Dixie Mallard and Rich-N-Tone duck calls are manufactured here. Incidentally, Stuttgart is occasionally called Sugartown. Remove the t's from Stuttgart and the remaining letters spell "sugar."

RTJ--9/3/97



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