Lem & Steve the Ward Brothers

Crisfield is proud of its history, and Lem and Steve Ward were a major part of a tradition that grew out of their modist little woodworking shop, in the Calvary section of Crisfield. The Ward Brothers as they were known were barbers by trade, but had descended from a long line of Watermen. Steve ran a small barber shop in the side yard at his home, and Lem worked for other shops in town cutting hair. Lem never enjoyed barbering but It was the only way he could make a living because of a crippling birth defect and chronic bronchitis. Both men were great hunters and fishermen learning to appreciate the great natural beauty of the Chesapeake Bay.
Steve and Lem became bored in their barber shops waiting for customers that needed haircuts. While they were waiting for patrons Lem and Steve started to whittle ducks from cedar and other soft woods. Their products were soon showing up on the shelves along with the hair tonic bottles. The floor of the barber shops were soon littered with hair and wood shavings. This didn't seem to bother the customers and soon people were stopping by just to see what they were making. The extra money earned from the wood carving was a great help in the early years leading up to the great depression. In 1933 haircuts were 15 cent and decoys one dollar and a quarter.
In the 1930's watermen in the area needed to hunt water fowl to put food on their tables. Decoys became important to everyone in the area. This type of decoy was called a shooting stool. The idea of using decoys for hunting was handed down through the generations and dates back too colonial times. Native Americans used this method to attract water fowl in close enough for a kill. The average decoy was made of scrap wood, many times a section of an old pole and painted with house paint. The Ward Brothers were perfectionist and try to make their counterfeiters look as close to nature as possible. Cedar wood was found to be the best for carving and floated better than heaver woods. The paint process was refined to an art form. Soon the Brothers were known throughout the area for their fine hunting decoys.
By 1940 the market for decoys would change for several reasons. Many private hunting clubs had came into existence on the Chesapeake Bay , some within 15 miles of Crisfield. Lem and Steve Ward were known through out the area for their "counterfeiters in wood". Many of the hunting clubs were started by wealthy businessmen with money to by the best decoys. Lem and Steve dominated this marked for many years. They had became a team by now turning out hundreds of decoys each year. Many residents of the area started to hunt for the sport, they also found the Ward Brothers decoys very attractive. Ward decoys became an art form that inspired others in the community to try to get in on the action. Some individuals became students of the brothers as they strived to pass on the tradition of hunting decoys. More important they started an art form known today as "waterfowl carving".

Today the old work shop remains, restored on the original grounds. Lem and Steve are gone, but to those of us that had the opportunity to set in the old shop and watch them preform their art as we listen to the folklore that they knew so well, the place will hold a special place in our heart.

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Page by; Philip L. Goldsborough

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