Three Museums

Posted by J.R. Duren on Jan 14th 2020

Three Must-Visit Decoy Museums

The best of our history dies if we don’t preserve it.

America’s decoy carvers are a widely recognized part of the nation’s folk-art history. They represent the best of the communities in which they lived: creativity, dedication, resourcefulness and a love of the natural world.

Thankfully, these legacies are not lost. Incredible museums up and down the coast have preserved the mosaic of stories that are the blood of the American decoy livelihood.

In this post, we present three of the more well-known and influential decoy museums: For each museum, we’ll tell when and why they started, what makes them unique and what their pricing, hours and contact information is.

Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art (Salisbury, MD)

When and Why It Opened

The Ward Museum opened in 1975 via the Ward Foundation, an organization named after legendary decoy carvers Lem and Steve Ward. The museum’s opening was the culmination of around seven years of decoy advocacy the Ward Foundation promoted.

What’s in Their Collection

The Ward Museum's permanent collection includes the following installations:

  • Henry A. Fleckenstein Jr. Decoy Study Gallery
  • World Championship Gallery
  • The Habitat Theater
  • The Ward Brothers Workshop
  • Decoy in Time Gallery

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What Makes It Unique

The Ward Museum is unique in that it is the epicenter for carving’s greatest artists as well as a robust schedule of classes that keep the carving tradition alive.

Ward World Championship

Each year, the museum organizes the Ward World Championship, the premier international decoy carving competition in the world.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the competition. It will take place April 24-26 at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD. A few of the highlights of the event include:

  • Around 1,200 different carvings
  • Nearly $60,000 in prize money
  • 40 competition divisions
  • Seminars by master carvers
  • Auctions for decoys
  • Kids events

This year’s classes include:

  • “Carve and Paint a Red-tailed Hawk Head” by Al Jordan
  • “Carve and Paint a Ward-style Goose” by Rich and Ross Smoker
  • “Painting Feathers” by Pat Godin
  • “Project Advancement” by Laurie and Mike Truehart
  • “Painting a Golden Crowned Kinglet” by Josh Guge
  • “Color Mixing” by Nancy Richards West
  • “Carving for Beginners” by Ross Smoker

In many ways, the Ward World Championship brings together all that is good and emblematic American decoy carving. The competitions bring together the best carvers in the world, many of whom carry on the nuances decoy carving’s Old Masters[JD1] popularized.

The event also brings fans of all ages together, creating an environment where older generations can pass on their love of decoys to younger generations.

Classes

The museum hosts a wide variety of classes and nature programs for kids, families, adults and schools.

For example, on the first and third Wednesdays of the month, the museum’s Woodcarving Club meets. The club is free for museum members and welcomes all levels of carvers.

Pricing, Times and Contact Information

Museum entry fees are as follows:

  • Adults: $7
  • Seniors: $5
  • Kids: $3
  • Students with college ID’s: $3
  • Veterans and active duty with ID: Free

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and is closed on Sundays. You can call the museum at (410)742-4988.

Havre de Grace Decoy Museum (Havre de Grace, Maryland)

When and Why It Opened

The Havre de Grace museum opened in 1986 in Havre de Grace, a place many consider the decoy capital of the world. The museum opened as a way to preserve the heritage of Chesapeake Bay decoys. The museum’s website provides a beautiful explanation about its focus:

“Decoys have been a central element of Chesapeake culture for centuries. In the beginning, they were made for one purpose — to lure waterfowl within range of the hunter’s shotgun. Decoys were simple, utilitarian representations of ducks and geese rough-hewn from wood. No one considered them art. Today, decoys lure far more people than waterfowl."

What’s in Their Collection

The museum splits its exhibit into four different sections:

  • What Is a Decoy?: Walks you through the history of decoy carving
  • Gunning the Flats: Focuses on Susquehanna Flats waterfowl hunting
  • Carvers Gallery: Features works from the Ward brothers and other carvers
  • R. Madison Mitchell Carving Workshop: A reservation-only room featuring tools Mitchell used to carve

The exhibit’s four different areas focus on promoting the history of decoys in the United States and Maryland. Decoys, hunting boats and gear, as well as maps and photos, provide a comprehensive look into the decoy carving tradition.

What Makes It Unique

The museum’s R. Madison Mitchell workshop is, perhaps, the museum’s most unique characteristic. The workshop features tools that Mitchell actually used, transporting visitors back in time when Mitchell was hard at work carving, painting, and mentoring other carvers.

Not only is the room a picture of what it was like to be a prolific carver like Mitchell, but it’s also a reminder of Mitchell’s legacy in Havre de Grace. He loved to teach apprentices and carvers. His influence in the carving is wide-reaching.

In addition to this, the museum hosts the annual Havre de Grace Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival. The festival’s highlight is its carving competition, in which carvers from across the country compete in more than 100 categories.

[havre de grace png]

Pricing, Times and Contact Information

The Havre de Grace Decoy Museum is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Entry fees are:

  • $6 for adults
  • $5 for seniors (60 and up)
  • $2 for kids and teenagers (ages 9 to 18)
  • Free for kids 8 and under
  • Museum members: Free

You can also take group tours of the museum that cost $3 to $4 per person. The museum’s phone number is 410-939-3739.

Shelburne Museum (Shelburne, VT)

The Shelburne Museum was founded in 1947 by Electra Havemeyer Webb, the daughter of art collectors whose original intent for the museum was to house her family’s horse-drawn carriage collection.

Over time, she expanded the collection to include pieces that reflected the growth and diversity of American Culture. Eventually, the Shelburne Museum became a small community of buildings that included a lighthouse, jail and a steamboat.

“Mrs. Webb created something completely unprecedented for her time: world-class collections in a village-like setting of historic New England buildings and landscapes; a welcoming and informal place for visitors to engage with history through objects that tell stories,” the museum’s website reads.

What’s in Their Collection

The Shelburne’s decoy collection is incredible because it features works from pre-eminent American decoy carvers:

  • John Blair
  • Elmer Crowell
  • Lee Dudley
  • Shang Wheeler
  • Gus Wilson

The collection represents multiple regions, too, including:

  • Maine
  • Long Island
  • Chesapeake Bay
  • Illinois
  • Quebec

The decoy collection started in 1952 when Joel Barber, a decoy collector and critic, donated his collection to the museum. Barber is a significant figure in American decoy history because he was its first notable advocate.

In fact, the Shelburne notes that Barber hosted public viewings of his decoy collection and started the first known decoy museum in 1947.

A visit to the Shelburne Museum’s decoy collection is an immersion into the story of how decoy carving transitioned from a utilitarian industry to an art form.

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What Makes It Unique

The museum’s defining trait is that it is a collection of all types of art from America and beyond, spread across multiple buildings that can be as interesting as the art inside them.

In addition to the buildings that house the art, the Shelburne has a variety of kid-focused activities and an events calendar that features concerts, gallery lectures, child-focused art workshops and community gatherings.

Pricing, Hours and Contact Information

From Jan. 2 to April 30, the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. All other parts of the year it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week.

Entrance fees vary depending on the time of the year. From May 1 to Oct. 31, the fees are:

  • Adults: $25
  • Seniors and AAA members: $23
  • Youth (13 to 17): $14
  • Children (5 to 12): $12
  • Under 5: Free
  • College students: $15
  • Vermont residents: $15

From November 1 to April 30, the Shelburne offers discounted entry fees:

  • Adults: $10
  • Youth (5 to 17: $5
  • Under 5: Free

You can contact the museum at (802)985-3346.


Link to Old Masters post. [JD1]