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Judges look over decoys at the annual Havre de Grace Decoy Festival, which returns to the city Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 5-7.
Judges look over decoys at the annual Havre de Grace Decoy Festival, which returns to the city Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 5-7. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF/Baltimore Sun)

The 36th annual Havre de Grace Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival returns to the city on the Susquehanna this weekend to showcase decoy carving and other forms of waterfowl art and collectables.

"There are still carvers in Havre de Grace who make their sole living making decoys," Margaret Jones, special events coordinator for the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, said.

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The festival is one of the fundraisers for the museum and typically draws 1,200 to 1,500 each year, she said.

The three-day event is spread out at three locations – the museum, Havre de Grace Middle School and Havre de Grace Activity Center. It runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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Tickets are $10 and good for the entire weekend; children 12 and younger are free with an adult. Shuttle buses will take visitors among the sites.

Longtime Havre de Grace and Harford County official talks about the roots and success of the Havre de Grace Museum during Saturday's 30th anniversary observance.

More than 100 artists will be exhibiting and selling their artwork, with good, children's activities, silent auctions, retriever demonstrations, carving competitions and goose and duck calling competitions.

The Decoy Festival was started to be the primary fundraiser for creating the museum, Jones said. The museum celebrated its 30th birthday in late January.

"The museum basically exists to promote Havre de Grace commercial decoy hunting and making industry from the late 1800s through present day," she said.

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The museum, Jones said, pretty much focuses on that history of the traditional working birds used in hunting.

The festival draws carvers from as far as Ohio, Louisiana and South Carolina, she said.

Besides carvers, artists include painters, photographers, a plaster sculptor and a carver supplier who sells wood and tools for carving.

"You will see some of the most incredible artwork ever, be it in carving, be it in painting or photography," Jones said.

Antique birds, more than 100 years old, will be on display.

The retriever demonstrations, at noon and 2 p.m. Saturday, are fascinating to watch, Jones said.

The carving of wooden decoys used by hunters to attract ducks, geese and other waterfowl in shooting range started out as a utilitarian pursuit that evolved into an art form, particularly around the Upper Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna Flats and along Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"We have working dogs here and their handlers put them through their paces," she said. "If you've never seen a hunting dog work, it's incredible. They respond to a whistle or hand signals."

Kids will also be able to try their hands at commanding one of the dogs.

Visitors will be able to watch carvers at work as they compete in the Atlantic Flyway Classic Carving Competition on Saturday.

The festival will also host the regional duck and goose calling competitions for those hoping to make it to the world competition.

Havre de Grace has the name of Decoy Capital of the World for a good reason, Jones said – up to 10,000 birds a year were shipped from the city all over the country.

"It's good to support your community. It's the largest fundraiser for the museum and it's a reminder," Jones said. "People are trying to rewrite history and forget history. And you can't forget the history. You can't forget what happens in the past because at some point in time, it will come back and affect the future."

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