New Crisfield Carvings—Bird Hunting on Broad Waters exhibit opens April 13 at CBMM

. February 19, 2013 . 0 Comments

The waterfowling and carving traditions along Tangier Sound’s open waters are featured in a new Crisfield Carvings—Bird Hunting on Broad Waters exhibit opening April 13 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) in St. Michaels, MD.

The city of Crisfield, MD, lies amid vast stretches of marshland ringing Tangier Sound—an ideal habitat for the migratory birds passing through every fall on their way south. Although well known as the seafood capital for the oysters and crabs that were packed there, Crisfield is just as well known for decoy carving in a distinctive local style. The Ward brothers—Lem and Steve—were the most famous of them, but Crisfield produced many more carvers, and hunters purchased their decoys for use far beyond these local waters.

Crisfield’s waterfowling and carving traditions are nearly as old as the city itself. Founded after the Civil War, when a railroad spur line was extended across the marshes to reach the waters of Tangier Sound, downtown Crisfield was built on oyster shells—the discarded byproduct of the fishing industry that built the city.

Will Sterling and Travis Ward, Sr., father of the Ward brothers, were among the first generation of decoy carvers in the community. They created a local style that was marked by a broad, flat bottom, which gave the duck or goose decoy maximum stability to minimize its wobble in the choppy, open waters of Tangier Sound.

Unlike other waterfowl hunting regions, the local waterfowlers—and the decoy carvers who supplied them—did not concentrate entirely on these most popular ducks, but hunted almost every species of bird that passed through the area, from herons (locally “buncutties” and “wops”) on down to song birds. They carved—and hunted—bird species that were widely enjoyed as table fare, but also birds that fed on fish and shellfish, such as mergansers and loons. Among the more unusual species for decoys were flickers (locally “hammers”), which were hunted widely in the area and carved by several area decoy makers.

This special exhibit includes decoys representing this broad variety of birds, as well as original artwork by carver Lem Ward, and other regional works. Crisfield Carvings—Bird Hunting on Broad Waters opens April 13 in the museum’s Waterfowling Building and continues through November 3, 2013. The special exhibit is free for CBMM members or with general museum admission. For more information, call 410-745-2916 or visit

Category: Museum News

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