Aug 15, 2023

Their egrets have flown all over the country. R and T Nautical is known for PVC pipe bird sculptures.

R and T Nautical shop in Cape Charles looks like something coughed up by the Chesapeake Bay.

Gray driftwood is scattered among tables of water-stained decanters, mud-splattered whelks and a barnacle-covered lawn jockey.

Slabs of black walnut, red oak and white oak lean against the building that still looks like the gas station it once was. The shop, minutes before (or after) the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, is a necessary detour for tourists who want to carry home a whiff of the beach.

But one of the store's most popular items is one of the few things that have never spent time in the waters or wetlands.

They are delicate egrets carved from man-made PVC pipes, birds the shop owner Robert Morris started fashioning with saw and sand paper several years ago.

The birds sway on spindly legs and bob from windows and from the concrete slab where gas pumps used to be, and a flock greets the curious by the front door of the shop.

Tracy Morris, Robert's wife and co-owner of R and T, said the sculptures are in restaurants along the East Coast, including in Hampton Roads.

Just outside the small office where her husband cuts and sands the birds is a photo of Bo Derek holding her own PVC statue.

Yes, the original "10" Bo Derek, who appropriated cornrows in the 1970s and won over Hollywood. Robert and Tracy will gladly recall the long story of how their PVC birds have flown to California.

"There are now five birds in the Derek family," Tracy says with a laugh and a dose of pride.

The couple started their quaint shop more than a decade ago after his mother converted the old gas station into a fabric store.

Tracy studied design in college, and Robert was always crafty but spent years doing more meat-and-potatoes labor, such as iron work and commercial fishing.

Several years ago, he heard of people making birds out of PVC. He’d studied snowy egrets for years working crab pots on the water. He thought he’d try making some.

"They were pretty ugly," he said about his first attempts.

Tracy shakes her head when she thinks back to those days.

Then he played with different templates, heating and softening the plastic to give the birds more grace with bent knees and softer wings, and mounting them on discs of wood. The smaller birds sell for $30 and increase in price with their size. He's left them snowy white but has painted some in college colors for football fans. Whatever the customer wants.

He took them to craft shows, and people wiped them out. Tracy, whose gift of gab is her biggest selling point, would strike up conversations and casually mention her husband's artwork.

People would ask, "He makes birds out of PVC pipe? PVC drain pipe?"

That was Tracy's cue: "Yes, and I think I happen to have one in the car."

She says she once made a sale during a game of cornhole with a businessman out of Pennsylvania. He said the smaller birds might make nice trinkets for his customers.

"He ordered 300," she said.

The Morrises no longer have to drive to craft shows. Their shop on Lankford Highway and new and repeat customers give them what they need.

Couples in shiny SUVs stop and load up their vehicles with walnut planks to make into desks or counter tops. Small kids pluck the PVC birds and laugh as they bounce.

Morning customers can catch Robert in his shop, face mask on, sanding his birds. Or in the afternoons in a chair, outside with a beer, ready for conversation.

Recently, Tracy smiled as a family with three young girls waded through the duck decoys and bottles outside and touched the birds on their way to check out the knickknacks inside, such as signs that read, "Old fishermen never die – they just smell that way."

"You like our little store?" Tracy asked the woman.

She said: "I love it!"

Denise M. Watson, 757-446-2504, [email protected]

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