The former Ward Brothers Workshop exhibit and the rest of the museum will be dismantled, all mold damage removed, and re-displayed in a new location. Photo: The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art

Eastern Shore Waterfowl Art Museum to Make Permanent Move Months after HVAC Failure

One of the Eastern Shore’s most significant collections of waterfowl art has not been visible to the public since last July, because of a building problem that caused mold to grow on its art pieces. Now, the Ward Museum has announced it will move their collection to a new building this year for the public to enjoy.

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, which is part of Salisbury University, has an extensive collection of historically important decoys and other wildfowl art, building on the legacy of pioneering decoy makers Lem and Steve Ward. Born in the 1890s in Crisfield, Md., the Ward brothers perfected a style of wood-carved decoy that was both lifelike and beautiful. They’re so collectible that a recent pair of decoys sold at auction for over $107,000, and a single decoy sold in 2016 for more than $210,000.

The Ward Museum’s Ward Brothers Workshop holds its own examples of the Wards’ wildfowl carvings and several exhibits showcase contemporary and historic decoys. But the museum’s exhibits were compromised by an unfortunate major HVAC system in the building.

The prolonged failure created unsafe environmental conditions in many of the museum’s galleries. Surface mold developed and spread on carvings and other pieces of artwork.

The Ward Foundation says all of the works affected by mold are being professionally cleaned and stored in a safe location. The foundation says it “has been in frequent consultation with insurance agencies, mold remediation specialists, and decoy and art conservation experts, and is confident in the full restoration and preservation of the collection.”

The foundation has determined the HVAC system is no longer capable of operating at a long-term level suitable to safely preserve and display the collection. Several other systems in the 30-year-old building have been found to be operating below code. The Ward Foundation and Salisbury University decided to relocate the museum to a new building on Salisbury’s campus or within the City of Salisbury.

With Salisbury University’s help, the galleries and artworks will be carefully moved in anticipation of re-opening in a new space later in 2023.

“This institution was founded to honor the art and legacy of the Ward brothers and to celebrate the transition of decoy making from a humble folk craft to a recognized form of decorative art – we will continue to live that mission,” said Ward Foundation Interim Executive Director, Brittany Andrew. “The museum’s collection is one of the largest and finest of its kind in the world.”

The museum’s classrooms weren’t affected by the HVAC failure, and classes have continued for students, including environmental field trips for Wicomico County Public Schools. And community classes are ongoing, teaching elements of heritage like songbird carving and creating an old-fashioned cigar box guitar.

The Ward Museum will also present the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition and Art Festival April 21-23, 2023, pitting some 1,500 decoys of 150 different species into competition.

-Meg Walburn Viviano