Crisfield, Maryland Canvasback
Any mention of Crisfield decoys brings several names to mind: Noah Sterling, Lloyd Tyler, Travis Ward and his two sons, Lem (1896-1984) and Steve (1895-1976). Barbers by trade, the Ward brothers began carving decoys around 1918 and it is estimated that they carved around 20,000 decoys in their lifetimes. Early on, Steve did most of the carving and Lem, who was the more artistic of the two, did most of the painting.
I am fortunate to have owned some Ward brothers decoys and was even more fortunate to have spent a memorable afternoon with Lem in 1980. I had been chosen to do the book cover painting for the 20th Anniversary of the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland, and I based the painting on a wonderful Ward Brothers Canada Goose decoy that I had in my collection. I stopped by to see Lem in Crisfield on my way to the show in Easton and gave him a framed artist proof of the painting. Sitting in a wheelchair, he looked at it for a long time and said finally, “Son, that’s a Ward Brothers Goose that we made for David Baker at the Holland Island Gun Club around 1930. Steve carved it; I painted it, and by God, you got ’er perfect.” When I told him I had the decoy in the car with me he wanted to see it, and while he handled it he told me about old Dave and Holland Island (which has long since washed away). The goose had “DBB” branded on the bottom, and I finally learned whose brand that was. As I was getting ready to leave, Lem told me to go out to the shop and find a piece of sandpaper. (Entering that shop, which still smelled of cedar shavings and tobacco smoke, was like entering a holy shrine.) Lem had me sand a small place on the bottom of the decoy and he wrote a personal note to me and signed it.
Most collectors agree that in the mid 1930’s the Wards peaked artistically. Even more specifically, in 1936 they produced some of their greatest birds. The miniature here is an exact replica of a 1936 drake Canvasback that I had in my collection.