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Champion decoy carver says his work can be enjoyed by all, even if they don't fish

John Peeters of New York Mills adds to his list of career accomplishments by earning the 2022 Carver of the Year Award from the Mid-State Chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. Peeters was front and center at the always-popular Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show in Alexandria on March 19.

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John Peeters showing off his artwork at the 2022 Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show on March 19, 2022. Peeters, of New York Mills, added to his list of career accomplishments by earning the 2022 Carver of the Year Award from the Mid-State Chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — For nearly 25 years, John Peeters has been a big fan of carving. It has developed into his biggest hobby and his passion for it was on display at the Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show on March 19 at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria.

“About 25 years ago, I started by joining a carving club,” he said. “These guys were making Santa Clauses and Christmas stuff, which is fine, but it’s not really up my alley.”

At that point, Peeters, who is a farmer from New York Mills, said the fellow carvers saw him carving fish and suggested he start going to decoy shows.

“The first show I went to, I had four entries. That got everything rolling,” Peeters said.

His passion for art and painting helped get him into decoying.

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A set of John Peeters' decoys were on display at the 2022 Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportmans Show on March 19, 2022.
Sam Stuve / Alexandria Echo Press

“Prior to doing the decoys, I did a lot of oil painting,” Peeters said. “I did a lot of art and oil painting and I still do.”

Peeters’ decoys have earned him a lot of recognition, locally and nationally. His booth at the Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show was front and center as he earned the 2022 Carver of the Year Award from the Mid-State Chapter of the Minnesota Darkhouse and Angling Association. It’s part of multiple Carver of the Year Awards and championships he has won in his career in Minnesota and other states.

Peeters’ decoys are more so art or a collectible than for actual use in a spear house.

“I’ll make working decoys, but most of the stuff I make people are going to stack and set on shelves,” he said. “It’s cabin decor.”

The Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show has grown immensely in recent years. This growth caused the show itself to be moved from the Alexandria VFW to the much bigger RCC.

“It just kind of grew and grew and grew,” Peeters said. “This is one of the better shows.”

Paul Lundeen, one of the event's co-organizers, is confident the show is one of the best in the Upper Midwest. The event draws carvers of all kinds, ranging from those who create artistic or working fish decoys for spearing to those who create life-size chainsaw wood carvings.

“We've got carvers from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin,” Lundeen said. “It's one of the premier events in the whole Upper Midwest. It's one of the biggest shows that we have in Minnesota.”

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Zwieg, who lived much of his life in Alexandria before his death in 2008, was a legendary carver himself whose work is still popular among collectors.

The show bearing his name started in 2009 at the Alexandria VFW. According to Lundeen, when the show first took place in Alexandria, there were only about 10 or 12 tables. Since then, the show has grown to fill the large space at the RCC where carvers can show off and sell their work to the full crowd of people who come through the doors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We have over 79 vendors and are in the biggest hockey arena in Alex with an estimated attendance of about 3,000 to 4,000 people,” Lundeen said. “Our popularity is growing every single year.”

There was a high turnout for the event this year as the parking lot was nearly full of cars and the venue was full of people who are either fans of the show or who were a part of the show.

“Most people don’t make a living off of this, but look at this place. It’s crazy right now,” Peeters said during the show.

The next Rudy Zwieg Decoy and Sportsman Show is set for March 19, 2023, back at the RCC.

Sam Stuve covers a variety of sports in the Douglas County area. He also is assigned to do some news stories as well.
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