By Josh Davis, News Editor
(April 25, 2019) The 49th annual Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition and Art Festival returns to the resort this weekend, April 26-28, at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center on 40th Street in Ocean City.
The event began at the Ward Museum in Salisbury and later outgrew that venue, necessitating the move to Ocean City.
Today, the Ward World Championship brings artists from across the globe to the resort to showcase their talents in several categories of competition.
Ward Museum Executive Director Dr. Kristin Sullivan said original event organizers had high hopes for the competition, but no one expected it to become as big as it has.
“Across the Eastern Shore and across the country, there were some other competitions, but nothing really of the scale that this was to become,” Sullivan said. “It started as a way to recognize and honor the legacy of [museum founders] Lem and Steve Ward, who of course are Eastern Shore boys.
“The draw of decoy carving on the Eastern Shore was huge,” she continued. “People across the country were interested from the get-go in this event and it grew to, I think, bigger proportions than anyone could have imagined.”
This year, more than 1,4000 wildfowl carvings will be on display, from beginning youth artists to former world champions, each competing for a share of almost $65,000 in cash prizes. Since its inception, the Ward World Championship has given out more than $2.6 million in prize money.
Sullivan said the event is unique for being “an international competition with world-class carvers.”
“I think the integrity of the competition is really important for its longevity,” she said. “I think the community of decoy carvers and wildfowl carvers that have formed around the competition is a huge part of the longevity of the event. But really, the quality of the pieces that go into the competition [is unique].”
According to Sullivan, contest entries range from functional hunting-style decoys that are tested in tanks in the convention center and on the Assawoman Bay, to “really fantastic interpretive pieces” of museum-quality art.
She said those later works tend to “take the essence of the species and interpret that in wood” and bronze.
“There was a piece that won best in world in the interpretive division [in 2017] by a man named Jeff Krete … and the piece was a bird that morphed into an old World War II style bomber plane,” she said. “On one wing it looked very much like a real, anatomically correct bird, but as the sculpture progressed over the bird it turned into an airplane, showing the aerodynamics of both the airplane and the bird as well.
“It was a really fascinating piece to look at and make you think about flight and the physics of flight, beyond just the artistry of the piece,” Sullivan added.
This year, for the first time, Ward World will kick off with an “Artist After Hours” on April 25 from 5-8 p.m. at the Art League of Ocean City on 94th Street.
“It’s a free event. Anyone is welcome to come and mix and mingle, and it’ll be a great opportunity to meet some of the carvers, artists and competitors that are going to be in the event coming in from around the country and around the world,” Sullivan said. “There will be hors d’oeuvres and drinks and so on there.”
She added the Ward Museum is also working with the art league to present some of the films shown during the recent Ocean City Film Festival.
“We will be showing those in the performing arts center of the convention center. Anyone that has a ticket for the world competition is welcome to go in and view those films,” Sullivan said.
On Friday, the Ward Museum will recognize artists Lynn Branson, Keith Mueller and Peter Palumbo with its 2019 Living Legend Awards, during a dinner and presentation from 5:30-9 p.m. at the Grand Hotel and Spa on 2100 Baltimore Avenue. Tickets cost $75.
A live auction is scheduled at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Performing Arts Center at the convention center, followed by an awards ceremony at 5:30 p.m.
The museum is also collaborating with the Salisbury Zoo, which will present live birds of prey demonstrations on Sunday.
Standard exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students.
For tickets or more information, visit www.wardmuseum.org or call 410-742-4988.