For the birds Shore: Easton goes all-out to celebrate waterfowl in athree-day festival

UPFRONT

November 07, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- If anyone could be just a little bit jaded about the annual Waterfowl Festival, it's Martha Hudson, whose watercolors have been part of the festival for 20 of its 26 years.

But she's not. Far from it, in fact.

"I love the festival," she says. "It's exciting to have this influx of people who are so enthusiastic. They come from all over."

Hudson, who lives and paints in the tiny Talbot County town of McDaniel, is one of the 450 exhibitors at the show that opens tomorrow and runs through the weekend. Visitors can stroll around Easton to see the exhibits, sample a hefty offering of local cuisine and watch duck and goose calling, a sporting clays tournament and retriever demonstrations.

The festival has become an Eastern Shore tradition in the Colonial town of Easton, which is the seat of Talbot County and home to about 10,000 residents. The festival began in 1971, when Talbot County residents and avid outdoorsmen Harry Walsh and Bill Perry inaugurated the November event to raise money for conservation. The first festival was funded by $1,500 from Ducks Unlimited. It raised $7,500 for conservation and drew 4,000 people and 50 exhibitors.

Since then, it has grown steadily, drawing larger crowds, more exhibitors and earning more money for conservation groups.

"Last year we matched our all-time high of $250,000," says president Brewster Merrill. "We gave that to organizations up and down the Atlantic Flyway, from New Brunswick, Canada, to South Carolina and Florida. We want to take care of the geese."

In its 26 years, organizers say, the festival has donated more than $3.3 million to conservation groups.

The stars are flying

The festival takes place at the height of the migration of Canada geese. Visitors have only to look overhead to see and hear the geese, whose noisy trip south fills the skies over the Shore every fall.

Or they can get a long look at some stationary geese in front of the old armory on Harrison Street, site of "Family Affair," the half-ton bronze sculpture that will be unveiled during the festival. The sculpture was created by Westminster artist Bart Walter. It depicts a goose and gander with a newly hatched gosling and several other eggs in a nest. It was a gift to the town of Easton from the Waterfowl Festival, and was installed early this week.

The goose in the sculpture is lunging forward, Walter says, "as if she sees something she really doesn't want around her nest." Like watercolorist Hudson, Walter has been an exhibitor at the festival for two decades. When he first joined the festival as an exhibitor, he was a carver, shaping lifelike ducks and geese out of wood.

"In 1985, I was the featured carver in the Armory," Walter recalls. In fact, one of his designs became the basis for "Family Affair" -- a wood carving of two geese evolved into the life-size bronze sculpture with the gosling, eggs and nest added in bronze.

"I got very frustrated with wood," Walter says of his decision to work in clay and bronze.

Both Hudson and Walter have focused on animals in their art. Walter draws on his childhood memories of time spend on Kent Island. He says his sculptures, several of which will be in the show, show animals in motion.

"I'm sculpting to capture the life and movement of wild animals," he says. Among his exhibits this year are a crane and three chimpanzees. His design proposal for "Family Affair" was chosen during last year's festival as the winner of a competition for art to be donated to Easton.

The sculpture is intended in part as a thank-you to the town for its continued support of the festival, organizers said. A limited-edition version of the large piece will be sold at the festival, and "Family Affair" will be dedicated in a ceremony tomorrow, the festival's first day.

Outdoors artist

Hudson says she chose watercolor as a medium because it offered a chance to be outside. "I love to paint outdoors," she says. "With watercolor, there you are -- you can dip a bucket in the river!" One of the paintings she has put in the festival shows two great blue herons in a courtship ritual. Formally titled 'Pas de Deux," it could also be called "Dirty Dancing," Hudson says with a smile. That piece came from time she spent at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, she says.

She can find inspiration as near as her studio window, which overlooks the headwaters of Harris Creek. Or as far as Italy, where she has traveled to teach art. But whatever her inspiration, animals and marinescapes are a prominent part of her work.

"I like animals better than people," she jokes.

Animals of all kinds can be seen in the festival, which is a far-flung event. Art is exhibited in the Tidewater Inn, the Elks Lodge and the armory. Food and craft vendors line the streets of Easton. The festival even spills beyond county lines, with fTC sporting clays tournament in nearby Queenstown. There are buy-sell-swap booths, gift shops and crafts all around the streets of Easton.

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