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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
Collage of Local Legacies
Charles Bounds and Lem Ward, holding one of his wildfowl carvings, 1980
Charles Bounds is pictured with Lem Ward holding his wildfowl carving that was adopted by the Ward Foundation as its official logo, 1980. Photo courtesy Charles Bounds

L.T. Ward & Bro. Wildfowl Counterfeiters in Wood: An American Legacy

As wildfowl carvers, Steve W. Ward and Lemuel T. Ward turned folk art into fine art and contributed greatly to the heritage of the Eastern Shore of the majestic Chesapeake Bay.

The marsh dominated the lives the watermen who lived in the region. They scheduled their days by the rhythm of the tide waters that flooded into the creeks from the bay, and they reckoned their seasons by the coming and going of the migrating fish and waterfowl. The waterman's life was hard and dangerous; much of their work was pulling heavy, unwieldy nets and traps, or lifting heavy tongs filled with oysters. Molded by this harsh environment, they were toughened by hard physical work and constant exposure to the weather. Steve Ward and his brother Lemuel were born, in 1895 and 1896 respectively, into such a family of watermen in Crisfield, Maryland.

Born with a withered arm and a deformed hand, Lemuel was not fit for the rigorous life of a waterman. While working as a barber, Lem took up whittling to pass the time, as did his brother Steve, and both men made decoys and displayed them in their shops. To the amazement of the neighbors, hunters began driving long distances to see and purchase the distinctive Ward duck decoys. Steve's special talent was carving and Lem's was painting. Joining together as a team, and forming a business they called L.T. Ward & Bro. Wildfowl Counterfeiters in Wood. By the mid-1940s, many of the decoys they were then making would never be piled into the bow of a skiff or tossed overboard as they had in the past, but were destined instead to become mantelpiece birds -- exquisite pieces of folk art.

Lem Ward died in 1984 at 87 years old. It has been estimated that between 27,000 and 50,000 decoys -- working, decorative and ornamental -- with the actual number falling somewhere in between -- were made by the Wards. Recently, at a major New York auction house, a collection of twelve L.T. Ward & Bro. working decoys sold for close to $400,000. Their lifelong work has inspired the creation of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art located in Salisbury, Maryland, founded by Charles Bound, long-time friend of Lem Ward.

The project is documented with eleven pages of text, a bibliography, four photographs, several catalogs of wildfowl art, a booklet entitled "American Decorative Bird Carving," and a personal letter from Charles Bounds to Lem Ward.

Originally submitted by: Paul S. Sarbanes, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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