Duck Fair, Children's Arts Festival highlight upcoming weekend in Havre de Grace

The Duck Fair, which is being held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 10, promises to feature carvers, artists, old decoy dealers, decoy appraisals and retriever dog demonstrations.
The Duck Fair, which is being held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 10, promises to feature carvers, artists, old decoy dealers, decoy appraisals and retriever dog demonstrations. (file photo, Patuxent Homestead)

The first weekend in Labor Day will be busy in Havre de Grace, with both the Children's Art Festival and the annual Duck Fair enticing the community to come out and enjoy two major events.

Tydings Park will feature the 23rd annual Children's Art Festival and Contest, which will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 10. It will be free this year for the first time.


"We know the economy is bad, and a lot of times kids don't get a chance to do a lot of different things," organizer Mary Boehly said about the decision not to charge.

The event includes craft projects, face painting, demonstrations with rescue dogs and other entertainment for children ages 3 to 10, and is also open to the public. Children must be accompanied by adults. In case of rain, it will be held at the Havre de Grace Activity Center.


"The [Havre de Grace] arts commission intends for it to be a fun time for children," Boehly said. "Some children that come are those that don't get the opportunities to do a lot of different things."

Besides the art, the festival will feature a musical show called Rory Owen's "Hats Off to America." That performance will run every hour starting at 10:30 a.m.

Duck fair

The Duck Fair, the annual celebration of Havre de Grace's Decoy Museum, is honoring two major figures in the world of decoy-carving this year: Madelyn Shank and R. Madison "Mitch" Mitchell Jr.

It is also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Decoy Museum's opening.

The fair, which is being held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 10, promises to feature carvers, artists, old decoy dealers, decoy appraisals and retriever dog demonstrations. Food and children's activities will also be available.

The main difference from previous years is the silent auction will be replaced by a "cash and carry" sale.

Both Madelyn Shank, daughter of the late R. Madison Mitchell, one of the all-time elite decoy carvers, and Mitch Mitchell will be celebrated as honorary chairpersons of the museum's board.

Madelyn Shank said she could recall when her father cut the ribbon on the Decoy Museum 25 years ago, and said she was happy to be recognized as co-chair of the board.

"I think it's very nice," she said about the recognition, noting she has been on the board for 20 years.

She also said the Duck Fair continues to be a major attraction and draw people to the town.

"I think it's been great. I think it's a great attraction for Havre de Grace, there's no question about it," she said. "What they do at the Duck Fair is, any of the exhibitors who attend the May festival can come up to the Duck Fair free of charge and set up their wares."

Admission is also free to the community.

Shank said she thinks the event has become better over the years.

"It has grown leaps and bounds," she said. "We have tried to keep up the same tradition."

Shank said the museum is staying strong as well, and marveled at the fact that it has been around for more than two decades.

"Hard to believe, it really is," she said. "My father was most active in it, and a lot of people came."

The major project happening now at the museum involves installing a new deck on the second floor, which Shank said is expected to be completed by September.

The original deck was condemned, as the boards were coming up and the railing could be dangerous to children, she said.

Her son, Mitch Shank, a former city councilman, recalled helping start the Duck Fair back in 1987. He also was the driving force behind getting the museum started.

"I thought it was very important," he said of the fair. "The concept behind it was to give back to the exhibitors who started it the first year. The museum was open for free."

Mitch Shank, however, said the event has changed somewhat because many of the original decoy artists are no longer alive.

"Over the years, they have tried various things to make it work," he said of the idea. "In the old days, a lot of the old carvers … a lot of the old guys we originally honored in the '80s, they all came to the show, and they all passed away. Some of the guys are no longer with us, so it's kind of lost that, and it's kind of a shame."

Commitment to the museum and the fair goes on, however, as Mitch Shank noted his uncle, Mitch Mitchell Jr., played a key role on the museum's endowment board.

That board has raised more than $700,000 for the museum, he said.

Despite the ongoing support, Mitch Shank, now that he is no longer as centrally involved with the fair, also said he thought the event's organizers could stand to do something new to attract newcomers.

"My personal feeling is, I'm not even sure they are going to continue it after this year," he said. "Once you get into your 25th year, you need to make some major changes. You need to reflect and look at it, how can we make it different."

Mitch Shank said he would like to see the Duck Fair and museum shake things up.

"I'm a big believer in traditions and I think it's important that the museum stay out front in the public," he said, adding he definitely hopes the fair does not go away.

"If we start with the Duck Fair, we really only have a Decoy Festival … I'm just concerned that once you start chipping away at the reasons we do all these things for the museum, you are hurting, in the long run, the viability of the museum," he said.

He said he always thought it would make sense for the Duck Fair to be connected with the Children's Arts Festival, which is happening around the same time.

The museum's future, however, is still positive after 25 years, he said.

"I think the museum is very happy, I'm very happy," he said, pointing out the recent hiring of C. John Sullivan Jr., to be its new director. "He's a big duck guy, and I really think he will take the museum to the next level."

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