All Things Waterfowl

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posted on January 28, 2010
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A little rain never stopped a dedicated waterfowl hunter, nor did it dampen the enthusiasm of those attending the three-day, 39th Annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Md. While Friday's sometimes-intense rains may have slowed things down a bit, by Saturday, eager attendees ignored the clouds and intermittent drizzle, turning out in droves to stroll the streets of Easton in pursuit of all things waterfowl.

At the Elks Lodge, Atlanta artist Peggy Watkins displayed her paintings of hunting dogs and North American and African wildlife. Watkins, whose preferred medium is oils, focuses on emotional impact. "If I can concentrate on that face and make the composition stronger on the expression, that's what I try to go for," she said.

Across the aisle, sporting artist Bucky Bowles, www.buckybowles.com, listened attentively as an attendee pointed to one of his paintings. "It's interesting how you've painted the dogs in shadow, progressing to bright light in the open field."

"That's what nature gives you," explained Bowles.

A few feet away, Chris Chantland, www.chrischantland.com and www.sportingartisans.com, displayed a wall of paintings featuring retrievers. The official artist for the National Retriever Club and the National Amateur Club, Chantland donates a yearly painting of each year's championship dog and its handler to both organizations.

Back in the historic district, people entering the Sculpture Pavilion were immediately drawn to Fred Boyer's, www.fredboyer.com, sculpture of an eagle grasping a fish in its talons, an impressive work that took almost five months to complete. "An eagle is a good patriotic piece," said Boyer. "I've always wanted to do a raptor."

In the Armory building, Patrick Godin, www.godinart.com, of Ontario, Canada, was a big draw. Godin carved his first bird in 1967, a black duck hunting decoy made of hollow spruce. Today, with degrees in wildlife biology and waterfowl ecology, he is meticulous in his attention to detail as he crafts his birds, primarily in tupelo wood.

According to Godin, his background "has helped me to understand the anatomy of my avian subject, but it has also ensured my work is sound scientifically in the attitude and behavior I try to capture."

Nearby, at fellow Canadian Glenn A. McMurdo's, (903) 372-5821, display, a crowd gathered around "Heathrow," a life-size heron. Begun in April 2009 after the Ward World Carving Championship in Ocean City, Md., the commissioned piece took McMurdo four months to complete, working 13- to 14-hour days.

The Art Academy showcased Gilles Peltier's, www.gillespeltier.com, unique acrylic sculptures. Back in 1980, the former goldsmith had an insightful accident, when he dropped his electric drill on a plexiglass display. The resulting scratch made him realize acrylic could be sculpted. After eight years, much research and hours of trial-and-error practicing, he presented his work to the public. His initial success led to more shows and recognition throughout Canada and the U.S.

An artist's workshop provided the perfect place to watch artisans in action—painters, decoy carvers, sculptors and even scrimshanders, like Jane and Lara Tukarski, www.janetukarski.com.

The Festival organizers didn't neglect history, either. Waterfowling artifacts played big at the high school cafeteria, where the late Dr. Harry Walsh's outlaw gunner collection featured a sink box gunning platform, a sneak skiff, battery gun and punt gun.

As with waterfowling, the Waterfowl Festival has much to do with dogs. Labs, pointers, Weimarainers and Chessies toured the Festival with their owners—as did at least one boxer, a chihuahua and a poodle in a stroller. Some were probably there for the DockDogs competition, which was open to all dogs, from mutts to trained retrievers. Each entrant attempted the longest or tallest jump from the dock into (or over) the water below—an exciting prospect for dogs and spectators alike.

Also drawing a crowd were the retriever demonstrations, in which dogs responding to their handlers' commands bounded into a pond in search of dummies thrown into the water or hidden ashore.

Other popular events included the sharp-shooting demonstrations of Team Benelli's Tim Bradley, a birds-of-prey demonstration, a fly fishing demonstration, a kid's fishing derby and a waterfowl calling contest, not to mention the opportunity to sample local wines, cheese, candy, sauces and beer in the Tasting Pavilion. For more substantial fare, there were options aplenty to purchase pit barbeque, crab soup or cakes, oyster fritters and clam strips, duck breast sammies and a plethora of more typical festival eats.

The Easton Waterfowl Festival is a community effort, and this year involved more than 1,500 volunteers. As in previous years, the goal of the Festival is to donate the proceeds—which typically exceed $5 million—to environmental conservation, education and research.

Clearly, its goals are worthy of support by all who enjoy the outdoors and hunting. So mark your calendars for next year's event, a 40-year celebration you won't want to miss.

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