That duck lady

Winnie Lock-Ho holding her first two
ducks on her right hand and her
favourite ducks on her left
It all started with two tiny wooden ducks which she bought in 1990 at only RM1.00 each.  These handicrafts from Indonesia kicked off a hobby in ducks for Winnie Lock-Ho who now has a flock of some 1,500 decorative ducks collected from almost every corner of the world. 

Her children, Vivienne, Vincent, Vernon and Vanessa, enjoyed Disney’s Daffy, Donald and Daisy and the youngest girl even has her own mini collection of duck toys.  But Winnie, 53, and her husband Gordon, never dreamt they would someday share their home with so many ducks.  At the peak of her passion for ducks, they even reared a few domestic ducks in the backyard.

From floors, shelves, cupboards to mounted wall cabinets, clusters of duck ornaments were displayed in pristine condition.  With such a wide collection, it’s a wonder how Winnie can remember where which duck is located.  And she could.  With very little effort, Winnie zeroed-in on her favourite duck, a cast-iron incense burner from Tibet.  She also easily retrieved a wooden piece which she had painted in Red and Green with a light sprinkle of glitter.

A collection of ducks made of wood and husk
A wall cabinet housed duck collectibles carved out of jade and semi-precious stones and in a jewllery box, there were solid gold ear-rings and trinkets like diamante brooches and pendants, all creatively designed in duck motifs.  Inside one display cabinet there was an assortment of 288 ducks as at the last inventory in 2004.

“Every single one of them has a different expression,” enthused Winnie, pointing to adorable ducks sculptured to look playful, mischievous or grumpy.  There were figurines of species like Mallard, Mandarin, teals, widgeon pintails and domestic ducks, styled in so many interesting postures.  Some were just sitting, others were feeding, dabbling, lying on backs with webbed feet kicked up or craning short necks to look down or around with curious, beady eyes.

Her favourite teapot designed with a duck motif
Her collection is organized by type and function in an amazing range made of porcelain, plaster, wood, terra cotta, stone, blown glass, concrete with some finished in bark and husks, lacquer or painted in realistic colours. 

Cupboards and drawers were bursting with useful and novelty items like teapots, cruet sets, clocks, jars, keychains, fridge magnets, door jambs, flower planters, pot-holders, pillow cases, handphone covers, soft toys, wine bottles, wall hangings and umbrellas with carved handles, all ingeniously made with duck designs.

Two glass-eyed birds with striking plumage, perched on a cupboard top actually had real feathers.  Winnie explained that these were imported North American Wood Ducks which could not survive our harsh weather.  So instead of simply perishing, they were preserved by a taxidermist and thoughtfully presented as priceless gifts. 

Since she had young children at home, it was fascinating that fragile pieces of delicate ceramic and porcelain remained nicely preserved.  With a knowing smile, Winnie said that Vanessa her youngest, was trained to avoid playing with and possibly damaging her collectibles.  By allowing her to get the first feel of each item in guided play, the toddler would satisfy her curiosity and no longer had any interest to touch it again.

Her favourite duck, an incense burner made of cast iron
from Tibet
But with lively children, accidents were bound to happen so it was just a question of who was brave enough to tell mummy about the damage.  Now as young adults, they recently owned up to breaking a particular precious piece and had painstakingly glued it back.  But Winnie, who already noticed it years ago, had graciously kept quiet about it.

Winnie admitted that there was a time when she simply could not resist buying cute, rare and appealing pieces.  She recalls a trip to Brisbane when she hand-carried back several ducks made of plaster and a concrete one which weighed more than 10kg.  This was most memorable because it resulted in strained muscles on both her arms.

More than two-thirds of her collection is made up of gifts and if she did not stop collecting since 1998, she would have to extend her house to accommodate them.  Friends tell her that people will pay to see this prized collection and encouraged her to turn her hobby into a business.  But for now, Winnie is just content to cherish her treasure trove of delightful ducks.

This article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Buzz in November 2008

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