This weekend wildfowl carvers from all over the world will be coming to Ocean City to showcase their skills, learn from other carvers and sell their pieces.  Admittedly we didn’t know enough about this annual event, or the significance of the history revolving around the Ward brothers, so we decided to do some research.

The Ward Brothers

The Ward brothers, individually known as Lem and Steve Ward, were Crisfield natives, born in the 1890’s.  During this time, Crisfield was experiencing great prosperity, but many of the locals were people who loved simple Eastern Shore living and enjoyed hobbies like hunting, fishing and carving.  Lem and Steve were no exception.  They began making wood decoys from old telephone poles and selling them to hunters around the country.  Hunting clubs would often send their wooden decoys back to the Ward brothers each year to be rejuvenated with a new coat of paint and repair of any damaged parts, ensuring they remained as realistic as possible.

The Great Depression in the 1930’s brought even more interest to the decoys.  During this time many people were hunting as a more affordable way to feed their families and needed decoys to attract wildfowl. However, in the 1950’s mass production of decoys made out of plastic became readily available. Not missing a beat, Lem and Steve changed their business model to producing carvings for more decorative purposes.  Carvings by the brothers became collector’s items, historical pieces reminiscent of life before mass production.

According to the Ward Museum’s website, “Steve’s failing eyesight in the late 1960’s ended his carving days; a stroke and other medical problems in the early 1970’s forced Lem’s retirement, ending five decades of carving that produced an estimated 25,000 pieces.”  The brothers were recognized for their accomplishments in 1964 by National Geographic.

Explore TheWard Brothers’ Legacy

Take a trip to the bayside town of Crisfield, just over an hour from Ocean City and see the Ward Brothers Workshop, located on Sackertown Road.  To go inside, call 410-968-2501 and schedule a tour.  Inside you’ll see oyster shells that the brothers used to hold paint while they were working and orders scratched into the wall.  To fully understand the life of the Ward brothers, this attraction cannot be missed.  

Approximately halfway between Ocean City and Crisfield is The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, located on Schumaker Drive.  The museum features a permanent exhibit of the work of the Ward brothers, as well as a film on them. The museum also has a variety of ever-changing exhibits, often featuring work relating to Delmarva.  The museum is open to the public Monday – Saturday from 10:00am – 5:00pm and Sunday from 12:00pm – 5:00pm.

Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition

From April 28th – 30th visit the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City to experience the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition.  The show features work by international carvers, workshops to learn the trade, live bird demonstrations for inspiration, a kids corner and the opportunity to shop for pieces from over 70 exhibitors.

Each year the competition also hosts a Living Legends Award Ceremony and Dinner.  This year’s recipients are Tom Christie from Waverly, Iowa; Curt Fabre from Bourg, Louisiana; and local Bennett Scott from Berlin, Maryland.

The cost to attend the show is $10 for a multi-day pass, with students and seniors receiving a $2 discount. Children under 12 are free, but must be accompanied by an adult.  Show hours are Friday from 10:00am – 5:00pm, Saturday from 9:00am – 5:00pm and Sunday from 10:00am – 4:00pm.