Art Of Wildfowl Ward World Contest

April 17, 1994|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

Some of the finest wildfowl artists in the world will bring their latest avian artworks to the Ocean City Convention Center next weekend for the premier wood-carving event of the year -- the Ward World Championship.

"This is the highlight of every year for bird carvers," says Gary Yoder, a 35-year-old world champion carver from Grantsville in Western Maryland. "It's kind of like a pilgrimage."

Mr. Yoder will be among more than 1,000 carvers from the United States, Canada and Japan expected to register about 2,000 life-size, miniature, pair and "working decoy" carvings in the 24th wildfowl carving competition sponsored by the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art of Salisbury. The three-day show opens Friday.

"It's a big show that brings in different ideas from across the country," Mr. Yoder says. "It's the best teacher I've ever had. You go and see other carvers' ideas, work and techniques."

Mr. Yoder, who first entered the show about 20 years ago and has won four world championships, this year has painstakingly carved a miniature bald eagle from a chunk of basswood.

To ensure accuracy in his work, he often borrows bird study skins from museums to count feathers or visits banding stations where live birds are trapped for measuring.

"It's a way of life that goes beyond profession or hobby," says the avid birder who sketched and painted birds as a child and started carving them when he was 11. "It's a very special interest group. Every one of us comes out of the same mold."

David Barsotti, a partner in MB Auto Supplies of Parkville in Baltimore County, plans to enter a life-size wood duck hen in the competition. He first tried carving about seven years ago, and now enjoys it as a hobby during breaks at work and in his two workshops at home.

"It's relaxing," says Mr. Barsotti, who at 38 has advanced to one bTC of the highest levels of competition. 'It's time-consuming, but when you see something that's done it's really neat. I've always liked art, but I never found anything I really liked to carve until I tried ducks."

Entrants in the show include professionals, hobbyists and youth from novice to world-class level. Carvings are judged by a carver, ornithologist and painter for exactness of detail, anatomical accuracy, color precision, artistry and craftsmanship.

"The beauty and the realism in these pieces is just outstanding," says Sheri Olsen Kelly, director of public relations for the Ward Museum. "There are many carvings that at a passing glance look to be real birds sitting on a twig. You are looking at glimpses of nature that the artists have had."

Decoy carving is recognized as one of four native American art forms -- along with quilting, jazz and scrimshaw. At one time, "working" decoys were mass produced for sale to hunters who put them in the water to attract wildfowl. Some of the decorative pieces are still designed to be floated today.

The first decorative touches -- a turn of the head or preening of feathers -- were added in the early 1900s, Mrs. Kelly says.

Today, carving is a decorative fine art, and collectors may pay tens of thousands of dollars for a meticulously detailed, realistic carving of a songbird, shorebird, sea bird, game bird, bird of prey or waterfowl to display in a home or office.

"The museum holds the competition as an incentive for people to continue the art," Mrs. Kelly says. Prize money this year will total $93,000. The five world champions will receive rings and purchase awards, and their birds will become a part of the permanent collection at the Ward Museum, which has the most comprehensive collection of wildfowl art in the world.

"The exciting thing is to see what's hot in carving," Mrs. Kelly says. "You never know what new technique you'll see."

About 15,000 people are expected to observe the judging, see the winning entries, attend the awards presentation, bid in the auction of donated carvings and purchase some of the entries.

Retriever hunting dog training demonstrations will be held outdoors on Saturday and Sunday. Working decoys will be judged Saturday as they float in the bay behind the Convention Center.

There will be book signings and informal talks, and 200 retailers will sell decorative wildfowl carvings and demonstrate the use of painting tools and carving supplies.

Show visitors are encouraged to plan a side trip to the museum, which is 30 minutes away in Salisbury, one-half mile off Route 50 at 909 S. Schumaker Drive. They will receive a $1 discount off the regular admission of $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and $2 for children.

IF YOU GO . . .

* WHAT: The Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition.

* WHERE: The Ocean City Convention Center, 40th Street.

* WHEN: April 22 through 24. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

* COST: Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students, and free for children 12 and under. A three-day pass is $16.

* MORE INFORMATION: Call the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art at (410) 742-4988.

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