More than a century ago, a brace of barbering brothers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore found themselves bereft of customers one afternoon. On a lark, they began whittling a wooden waterfowl to pass the time while they awaited their watermen clientele who worked the Chesapeake wetlands during the day. Although Lem and Stephen Ward were just winging it, their carvings were an instant hit and watermen flocked to the shop for ducktails and decoys.
Initially, the decoys were made for hunters in the field, but over time, they evolved into works of art sought by collectors worldwide. Generally, Stephen did most of the carving while Lem concentrated on the painting. Neither brother had any formal training, but this didn’t stop them from building a major workshop.
By 1968, the brothers had cut out barbering altogether to carve out more time for decoys. They established the Ward Foundation, which now manages the museum and the World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition.
In addition to featuring rotating exhibits of impressive regional art, the museum’s permanent decoy galleries certainly have all their ducks in a row and are nothing short of astonishing. Some visitors have commented that many of the pieces look so realistic they mistook them for taxidermy.
The museum sits beside Schumaker Pond with nature trails encircling the museum and lined with bronze avian sculptures. The entire property is an unstilted homage to waterfowl art.