Every November since 1971, the Eastern Shore town of Easton hosts the Waterfowl Festival, a weekend celebration of wildlife art and Chesapeake Bay culture that benefits conservation efforts across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This year's festival features the work of more than 300 wildlife artists and artisans, specializing in painting, sculpture, carving, photography, decoys and folk art.
The festival is a signature event for the exhibition of Maryland's "art of the Chesapeake" – one of the state's unique treasures. Chesapeake Bay art depicts the places and things that evoke the feeling of the bay region, an area known for its natural splendor, maritime culture and recreational choices.
Such artwork is widely available in Maryland towns near the bay or one of its many tributaries. These towns, in many instances, have arts and entertainment districts. They tend to be scenic locations with an array of cultural attractions, and enticing dining and lodging choices – perfect for weekend getaways.
Annapolis, for instance, is a prime destination for galleries. Nearly two dozen galleries are located minutes from City Dock, center of the historical district. Cambridge (Dorchester County), Denton (Caroline County), Elkton (Cecil County) and Havre de Grace (Harford County) also have arts and entertainment (A&E) districts, and are either on or near water.
The Southern Maryland town of Solomons (Calvert County) also has an active gallery scene. Two other locations with clusters of galleries are Fell's Point, a historic waterfront community in Baltimore, and Bethesda (Montgomery County) – recently named top A&E district for the year by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.
On the Eastern Shore, the three sister towns of Easton, St. Michaels and Oxford (Talbot County) are gallery hot spots. Mindful of the cultural and culinary attractions of these towns, county officials promote their area as "the Hamptons of the Chesapeake."
And, on the Upper Shore (Kent County), the colonial seaport of Chestertown also has a wide selection of galleries. Chestertown artists are among the 50 artists in Kent and Queen Anne's counties who open their studios to visitors during the River Arts Studio Tour.
Eastern Shore artist Cindy Fulton, a co-chair of the tour, says: “Artists flock to the Chesapeake Bay region in search of subject matter for paintings, sculptures, textiles and other forms of art. Each season brings new sources of inspiration – the ever-changing colors of the bay, its beaches, grasses, skies and forests, for instance. Interesting shapes also emerge amid forms in nature and the region's abundant wildlife.”
Sea glass, another maritime-art medium, will be featured at two upcoming expositions: the Eastern Shore Sea Glass Festival in St. Michaels, and the Spring Sea Glass Festival in Queen Anne's County.
The state tourism office suggests checking individual destinations or county tourism offices for information about local galleries and arts centers. Below, is a selection of museums where visitors are apt to find art of the Chesapeake Bay:
- Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, Fell's Point (Baltimore) – This national heritage site has 5,000 square feet of gallery space, used for exhibitions and interactive learning centers, such as a boat-building workshop. Exhibits tell the story of the local African-American community and its ties to Chesapeake Bay traditions. The first African-American owned and operated shipyard was located yards away. Chesapeake Bay cuisine can be found on the menu of Waterfront Kitchen, a recently opened restaurant located here.
- Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, Havre de Grace (Harford County) – The museum houses 1,200 decoys and decorative carvings. On weekends, local carvers offer carving demonstrations. Special events include an annual decoy and wildlife art festival in the spring. Havre de Grace, located on the banks of the Susquehanna River at the top of the Chesapeake Bay is home to the Concord Point Lighthouse – Maryland's second oldest lighthouse (built 1827).
- Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons (Calvert County) – Three permanent galleries house these exhibitions: Paleontology of the Miocene Epoch, Marine Life of the Chesapeake Bay and Maritime Heritage of Southern Maryland. Drum Point Lighthouse, built in 1883, is on the museum's waterfront. A woodworking shop here is headquarters for the Southern Maryland Shipcarvers' Guild and the Solomons Island Model Boat Club. First Free Fridays, 5 to 8 p.m., offers free admission once a month.
- Academy Art Museum, Easton (Talbot County) – This traditional museum, accredited by the American Association of Museums, has relationships with the Baltimore Museum of Art, Walters Art Museum and National Gallery of Art, which allow it to bring in exhibitions from those other institutions. Permanent collections at the museum feature works by American and European masters. The museum also offers a wide range of cultural programming and collaborates with such regional expositions as the Waterfowl Festival and Plein Air – Easton!
- Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels (Talbot County) – Exhibits, demonstrations and annual festivals depict bay culture and history. Push and Pull: Life on Chesapeake Bay Tugboats, is a display of artwork and artifacts from the museum's collection and private collections. An exhibit in the Waterfowling Building features working decoys from the mid-Atlantic region. The museum is on 18 acres along the Miles River. Overnight stays are available in the Hooper Strait Lighthouse (built 1879).
- J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum, Crisfield (Somerset County) – Named for the former Maryland governor (a native son of Crisfield), the museum is located at Somers Cove Marina, site of the annual National Hard Crab Derby. It has exhibits depicting the origins of the Chesapeake Bay, the seafood industry, Crisfield history and decoy carving. Tours of the Ward Brothers Workshop allow visitors to watch carvers at work. Crisfield is also known as "The Crab Capital of the World."
- Rock Hall Museum, Rock Hall (Kent County) – In a town known for its marinas, seafood outlets and access to the Chesapeake Bay on the near edge of the Eastern Shore, the museum was established as a private enterprise in 1976 by a local educator. In 2000, the founder's widow donated it to the town. The museum, located in the Municipal Building near the town center, has a re-created decoy-carving shop stocked with original items used by a Rock Hall master carver.
- Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury (Wicomico County) – Located in a waterfront property with 12,000 square feet of exhibition space, the museum has the world's largest public collection of decorative and antique decoys. It was named for Lem and Steve Ward, two brothers from Crisfield who pioneered the evolution of working decoys into objects of fine-art. The museum, for the past four decades, stages the Ward World Championship Carving Competition and Art Festival. It's held in Ocean City in April.
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