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TideWriters Tales
White Stone Phenomenon~Rappahannock River Waterfowl Show
By Rev. Ron Jones

     An event that will celebrate its 23rd anniversary this March began with a dream as so many successful events do. Phil Cross was a member of the Windmill Point Yacht Club. He had a vision of some way to help the club make its name known. With waterfowl so abundant in and around the waters of the region and songbirds in the marshes and woodlands, a wild fowl art show seemed a fitting way to recognize a strength of the people who practice such art. 

     Being housed at the Windmill Point Resort provided the yacht club with a large room for the exhibition hall. Yet Mr. Cross needed organizers. He invited two veterans of the waterfowl show scene. They were William Bruce, a self-taught carver of decoys for nine years, and his wife, Pat, who had traveled to shows in Maryland, North Carolina, and several places in Virginia. They were naturals for the job.

     Since they knew many carvers, it was not difficult to get 35 exhibitors for the first show scheduled for March 1, 1980. All was in readiness when nature sprang a surprise. A late winter snowstorm came through the region dumping 14 inches of the white stuff on the area. Still, about half the exhibitors made their way over the bad roads and a surprisingly large number of patrons came to see the show. The hall was closed after about half of the time planned and people were sent away.

     Now with some experience in operating a show, the Bruce’s launched into lining up the exhibitors for the second year. All the plans were made and invitations had been sent out and accepted when once again, a surprise was sprung on them. Fairly near the date of the 1981 show a rift occurred between the yacht club membership and the management of the resort and the club severed its relationship with the resort. With no hall in which to hold the show, William and Pat approached the White Stone Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department and Auxiliary where they were active members.

     After having explained to them what the role of the department would be, the volunteers voted to accept the challenge. They would have to sell tickets, operate the gate, give away the free waterfowl prints, provide hospitality, sell raffle tickets, operate a refreshment kitchen, operate parking lots and provide information. But probably the most difficult job would be to set up the exhibition areas with tables and peg boards. Now, after 22 years they still perform these tasks flawlessly. They have a stimulus, however. Their department gets the profits from the event.

     Eventually the head to head general contest format among the exhibitors was changed to a juried show with expert judges making awards of ribbons. The decoys still form the centerpiece of the show and are the first exhibits encountered upon entering the exhibition hall that is the old gymnasium of the school. There are two categories of decoys. One class is the purely decorative decoys which simply stun the viewer with their realism. Carvers are skilled craftsmen who, using burning tools, create lifelike feathers and other features. Painting accurately is a judging point and truly “bring the birds to life.” The other class is gunning decoys, ones capable of being used for luring birds in to the hunters. They must be capable of floating and in a balanced manner to look like the real thing.

     Another expansion of the show occurred over the years. Songbirds now have a large display area of their own and there is now a large group of painters who are invited annually to display their wildlife art. Some of the paintings are of domestic animals, especially ones of Chesapeake Bay and Golden Retrievers. There is a photography category with a limit of tow exhibitors who have some amazing close-ups. A hand-crafted jewelry category features two craftsmen with both carved wood pieces as well as fine silver and gold pieces. 
Favorites of this writer are the stained glass designs of Kathy Juron, the fabulously realistic paintings of wildlife by Spike Knuth, an illustrator for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the real to life carved pieces by Lewis Shelton, all long-time exhibitors. Many of those who exhibit come from distant places and choose to display their work at only a couple of shows. For the Rappahannock River Waterfowl Show to be included indicates what an outstanding reputation the show has developed.

     A more recent added category is bronze work. The raffle item last year was a large bronze eagle. Speaking of raffles, every year an artist is commissioned to produce an item to be raffled. An artist is also commissioned to produce a pen and ink drawing of waterfowl which is then reprinted for distributed to a limited number of those who come early to each of the two day event. However, this year Mrs. Bruce says 2000 prints will be available. The original is placed on permanent exhibit at the fire hall.

     Supporters can attend an early exhibition on Friday night before the event each year. For an entry fee of $40 each, an attendee gets to meet the artist/carvers, view the exhibits in an unhurried and non-crowded atmosphere and partake of the catered food and wine.

     Each of the exhibitors must purchase display space at the rate of $120 for one table to a high of $190 for two tables and two pegboards. They most often have items for sale and thus most go away having made some profit for their time. Some of the exhibitors are longtime visitors who have made friends here and look forward to the March event. They come from as far away as Vermont and Florida and as far west as Tennessee and this year there will be 85 on hand. New exhibitor applications numbered 23 but with limited space, unfortunately none of them could be invited. The visitors who number around 3000 each year come from about 13 – 14 states and they make up about 65% of the crowd.

     When asked what is the hardest part of being the organizers, Pat Bruce said for her it is dealing with the artists. They are individuals with specific needs and as one might imagine, there is a political element involved. The organizing committee takes great care to provide what the exhibitor’s need. There is a hospitality lounge where they may go for a cup of coffee, have a snack, or just relax. With a laugh she said William probably thinks everything about the show is hard after this many years of hard work.

     The planning begins shortly after the show closes. Plans for next year’s posters begins in April. Pat sends announcements to various magazines with national distribution. One such magazine is Southern Living which has listed the show in the past as one of the top 20 events in the South. Pat takes personal responsibility for issuing the invitations and making the arrangements for the exhibitors. It seems to be a labor of love. It ought to be noted that Pat holds down a full time job as well, serving as a teacher and assistant director of Chesapeake Academy.

     She smiles broadly when asked what makes the job of organizing most rewarding. “The quality the show has been able to achieve both for the exhibitors and for the benefit of the visitors who just keep returning,” was her joyful response. Certain exhibitors have a national reputation. One of them is Art LaMay who is a well-known and talented artist who loves to come to this show. 

     This year’s featured artist is Raymond Bell whose drawing of snow geese will be the free print. This writer will happily add this new print to the previous 11 he has collected. It is obvious this show holds a premier position in his mind as a “must attend” event not just for him but for so many in the region. This year’s show begins on Saturday, March 16 with doors opening at 10 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Put it on your list of things to do in March. 

© 2002 Rev. Ron Jones All Rights Reserved. Readers may contact Ron Jones via email at

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