Maryland artist Bart Walter remembers the first time he exhibited at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton: It was 1974, he was sixteen years old, he nabbed a last-minute invitation, and he brought a passel of intricately carved (“excruciatingly detailed,” as he calls them) duck decoys. This year, the Waterfowl Festival—which runs November 12–14 and promotes wildlife conservation, wildlife art, and the outdoor culture of the Eastern Shore—reaches its fiftieth anniversary. Walter, who has since swapped wood for bronze and become a world-renowned wildlife sculptor, is the featured artist.
On premiere night, Thursday November 11, he’ll display the sculpture he created for the occasion. Titled Wind and Waves, the work depicts a pair of Canada geese (the symbol of the festival) and three canvasbacks. “I spent a month staring at geese, sketching geese, trying to envision what this piece would actually look like,” Walter says.
He took his thoughts to the studio, built an armature, and added clay, aiming to suspend the geese in the moments of their takeoff. “I try to use the fluidity of bronze to my advantage,” Walter explains. His usual process: After he is satisfied with the clay sculpture, which takes him as long as he needs to capture the spirit of his subject, he casts the piece in bronze, preserving each detail down to the last fingerprint. “That essence of a moment, that flick of a wrist, that push of a palm, is recorded in bronze in perpetuity.”
For Marylanders, the geese and canvasbacks will represent a familiar wintertime scene—one that shaped Walter as an artist. “Growing up in Maryland gave me access to the Chesapeake Bay and its many habitats, which I explored thoroughly by canoe and a pair of hip boots,” he says. “I’ve always had a love affair with geese, and I started hunting ducks as soon as I could hold a shotgun.” (As he puts it, he didn’t succeed in shooting many, but he ended up carving a whole lot of them.)
When he’s not exhibiting at the Waterfowl Festival, Walter will be enjoying the other art on display including decoys and paintings, stopping by the retriever trials, and strolling the streets feeding off the energy of the weekend. “The Waterfowl Festival,” he says, “encapsulates the outdoor experience of the Chesapeake Bay.”