Discovering the Beauty of Nature at the Ward Museum of Wildfowl

Red-Breasted Merganser Pair, date unknown, A. Elmer Crowell, East Harwich, MA

The story of how the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art got started is really cool, actually, and started with two brothers, who began carving in their childhood in the early 1900s.

Flying Canvasback Pair, 1963, Lem Ward, Crisfield, MD

Lemuel T. Ward (1897–1984) and Steven W. Ward (1895–1976) were native Marylanders — they were born, lived and died in Crisfield, on the Delmarva Peninsula, and became famous for their wooden wildfowl carvings.

Mallard Family, circa 1920, by Ira Hudson, Chincoteague, VA

Living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, they naturally were avid waterfowlers. Steve was 12 when he carved his first duck decoy; Lem carved his first a few years later in 1918. These were basic decoys, used for hunting. 
Canvasback Drake, circa 1880, by Ben Dye, Havre de Grace, MD

As adults, they were barbers, although bored by their chosen trade. While waiting for customers, they began whittling wood decoys from cedar blocks. Crisfield was a waterman’s town, and there was a huge demand for hunting decoys. 
Pintail Drake, 1926, Ward Brothers (repainted by Lem Ward), Crisfield, MD

Soon the brothers’ barber shop was filled with decoys and people flocked to the barber shop — not for haircuts but to purchase the decoys. Steve did most of the carving; Lem most of the painting. 
Northern Goshawk Male, 1994 Best in World Decorative Lifesize, Glenn Ladenberger, St. Catharines, Ont., Canada

Two brothers elevated the folk art of decoy carving into a world art form when plastic started replacing wood in decoys in the 1950s.

Symphony in White, 1987, Whistling Swans, basswood & tupelo, Robert Kerr, Smith Falls, Ont., Canada

Their decoys are highly prized by collectors.

Arctic Tail Chase, 1989, Arctic Terns and Gyrfalcon, David & Mary Ahrendt, Hackensack, MN

Now, there’s an annual wildfowl carving contest, where artists compete to create beautiful examples of wildfowl carvings.

Curious Wren, 2003 Best in World Interpretive Wood Sculpture, John T. Sharp, Kent, OH

Permanent exhibits include the Ward Brothers Workshop, the Decoy in Time Gallery, the Decoy Study Gallery, and my favorite part of the museum, the World Championship Gallery, filled with the winners of many of the contests.

Green Heron and Mangrove, 1997, Ernie Muehlmatt, Salisbury, MD

As part of the museum, there’s an outdoor sculpture garden with beautiful examples of wildfowl art, although there’s also a chicken, not so wild, but still a fowl.

Getting there: 909 South Schumaker Drive, Salisbury, MD 21804

Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sunday noon – 5 p.m.


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