Scenic place for moderately priced lunch: Nauti-Goose Saloon; 410-287-7880
As they perfected their art, Steve and Lemuel Ward, brothers and barbers from Crisfield, set the Eastern Shore standard for handsome and strikingly realistic duck decoys. The museum founded in their name, the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, features an exhaustive collection of decoys created for different North American flyways, as well as realistic masterpieces created specifically for the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition.
Unlike many museum gift shops, the Ward's shop, managed by the country living conglomerate Orvis, doesn't just sell T-shirts and the usual knickknacks. Casual shoppers and serious collectors alike can find authentic decoys, those made by living masters as well as primitive antiques that wear their age with a proud patina.
A stroll through the museum itself is an illuminating preface to shopping. Amid recorded birdcalls and marsh grasses, the history of the Eastern Shore's hunting traditions, from ancient times until today, is told in the context of the region's way of life. Enormous punt guns, photographs, illustrations and reproductions of American paintings allow full immersion in the shore's marshes, tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay itself.
A room devoted to the Ward brothers conveys the strong sense of regionalism that sets the Eastern Shore apart from the rest of Maryland. A poem, written by Steve Ward and on display, also reveals how wonderfully quirky these carvers were. It goes, in part: "I'm just an old has been decoy ... my sides and head are full of shot."
All the more reason to visit the gift shop, where a fair number of these poor old (and not-so-old) has-been decoys are for sale, several of them duplicates of those in the museum collection. An old pair of canvas-covered widgeons for $250 caught my eye as did a whistling swan decoy used in the Susquehanna Flats circa 1900.
Prices are reasonable, but be prepared to spend some money for a quality decoy. A pintail hen carved by George Bell, a protege of the Ward Brothers, sells for $200, while a pair of miniature goldeneyes by Charles Jobes of Havre de Grace costs $75. New decoys carved by contemporary Maryland artists are also available.
A show and sale, Traditional American Crafts, continues at the Ward through Jan. 5. Prices range from about $26 for earrings to thousands of dollars for a Japanese-style carved wood table.
Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, 909 S. Schumaker Drive, Salisbury University, Salisbury
Lunch by the marina: Brew River Restaurant. 502 W. Main St.; 410-677-6757.
More shopping options: For zany local crafts, try Chesapeake East, 501 W. Main St.; 410-546-1534.
A trip to Western Maryland late in the year fairly guarantees a change of weather as well as a change of scenery. It's a region accustomed to lots of snow, though, and the roads are well tended. Check the forecast but don't be deterred by flurries. Once past Hagerstown, a pioneer spirit kicked in as we set out to explore a rural landscape that feels as much like a part of the past as the present.
Our first destination was Penn Alps Restaurant and Craft Shop in Grantsville, founded in 1957 by Alta Schrock to highlight the crafts and traditions of the Allegheny Highlands and to provide a means of support for country people.