This tour lets visitors examine the art and evolution of decoy carving based in
the waterfowling tradition, then travel to a remote refuge to mingle with the
J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum and Ward Brothers Workshop, Crisfield, MD.
In the pantheon of Chesapeake Bay decoy carvers, few stand out more boldly
than Lem and Steve Ward. The brothers, both barbers from Crisfield, learned
to carve (and barber) from their father, L. Travis Ward, Sr. He was also a waterman,
so it’s not surprising that the Ward Brothers Workshop is only about a
block from Jenkins Creek, where they kept a shanty for shedding soft-crabs.
The brothers at first carved decoys for local hunters. But their birds eventually
gained a following all over the Bay. Now collectors pay tens of thousands of
dollars for them. Today, you can walk into their workshop and see it as they
did. Their desk, chopping block, saws, paints and tools are intact. It’s
as if they just popped down to the peeler shanty for a few minutes, and their
workshop is waiting for their return.
The Evolution of Decoys
Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art, Salisbury, MD.
When decoys began moving from the marshes to mantles, their purpose and value
shifted from that of working tools to coveted collectibles. This museum, about
an hour northeast of Crisfield, studies that evolution. It also explores the
history of waterfowling and decoy carving. Today, carvers create decoys of astonishing
detail that are truly a fine art, but their roots are in the Bay’s waterfowling
tradition that produced working birds. The galleries here let you examine the
form, function and homespun beauty of a bluebill drake by the Ward brothers,
then marvel over the lifelike delicacy of a flock of sanderlings—a winner
in the museum’s annual world championship carving competition. Carvers
around the Bay created different decoys for varied hunting conditions, and placed
their own personal flair and style into their birds. This museum’s extensive
collection also lets you study in detail those variations and begin to understand
how they came about.
A Haven For Ducks
Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cambridge,
Despite the proximity of major cities, the Bay still harbors places were you
can immerse yourself in wilderness. This refuge, about an hour’s drive
northwest of Salisbury, is one of those. Among waterfowl, the Bay has four types:
diving ducks such as canvasbacks and ruddy ducks; dabblers such as black ducks;
geese; and swans. All are represented in this refuge’s 26,000 acres of
remote tidal marshland. Here, it is possible to watch the autumn arrival of
some 30,000 Canada geese, examine the intricate beauty of a pintail, or a blue-
or green-winged teal, and listen to the peculiar creak of tundra swans’
wings as flocks of them pass overhead. Amid the silence of the spindly pines
and marshy meadows, it’s possible here to imagine the Bay and its waterfowl
as they co-existed centuries ago.