Knute Bartrug, a volunteer at the original Ward Foundation Exhibition in 1968, and the inaugural chairman of the Ward Foundation Carving Competition in 1971, died after a brief illness, on September 18, 2014 in his hometown of Salisbury, MD. He was 85 years old.
Bartrug’s interest in carving began in 1945 when he visited Lem and Steve Ward’s workshop in Crisfield, MD. The Ward brothers “took him in,” and the teenage outdoorsman began to fashion decoys for his personal hunting rig. After high school and a stint in the United States Air Force, Bartrug married and began a small construction business, which took up much of his time; yet those indelible impressions from his early trips to Crisfield remained strong.
Knute Bartrug credited his friend Fred Kreiser as the primary force behind the creation of the first Ward Foundation Exhibition in 1968. Bartrug volunteered his services for that initial exhibition, and contributed time and money for its success for the next 14 years. With the creation of the World Championship, the carving community would forever be transformed. Bartrug provided a place for appreciation of decorative wildfowl, and also offered cash prizes to the winners, instead of just ribbons. The ranks of “professional carvers” swelled in a relatively short time. In the years that followed, he helped start over 93 exhibitions and contests across the United States.
With his vision and tireless effort, Knute Bartrug forged a path that advanced wildfowl art toward ever-increasing acceptance as an international art form. The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art and the many decorative carvers that have participated in its competitions will forever be grateful.
Note: The above information was abstracted by Joe Engers, with permission, from an article by Dr. Barry Berkey in Wildfowl Carving & Collecting, Winter, 1997