|Lem Ward (left) and Steve Ward, in their Crisfield workshop in the late 1960s. Today, collectors pay tens of thousands of dollars for their birds.
Decoy carving is a folk art form derived from the Bay's waterfowling tradition. Made originally to help lure birds within shooting range, decoys could be set up in rafts by the dozens around a hunter's sinkbox or duck blind. The successful carvers were those whose decoys could ride the weather and bring in the birds, and those masters turned out decoys by the thousands.
Premier carver R. Madison Mitchell, the undertaker in Havre de Grace, Maryland, made about 100,000 decoys over his lifetime. Some of his apprentices are still working today. Perhaps the Bay's most famous carvers were Lem and Steve Ward, brothers from Crisfield, Maryland who were the local barbers.
Decoys' inherent beauty and grace, as well as their role in the Bay's waterfowling tradition, have helped turn them into collector's items. Carvers have always used their own techniques and designs to create decoys of striking individuality. Today some have elevated decoy carving to a fine art, creating birds of remarkable detail and delicacy.
Learn more about waterfowling in the Chesapeake region.