Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr. Decoy Study Gallery

In honor of Henry Fleckenstein’s years of service to the decoy collecting community, the Ward Museum and the Fleckenstein family are pleased to announce plans for the Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr. Decoy Study Gallery.

Since the museum opened in its current location in 1991 the Decoy Study Gallery has displayed the geographic range of antique working decoys. Large maps detailing the flyways along which millions of waterfowl migrate each year grace the back walls, and cases displaying decoys made in corresponding regions anchor the room. Smaller display areas with changing exhibits highlight different aspects of the world of antique decoys and hunting culture in the early-20th century—for example exhibits of international decoys, antique duck calls, or the hunting camps that supported carvers and provided enjoyment for turn-of-the-century hunters.

In advance of the Henry A. Fleckenstein Decoy Study Gallery dedication the gallery will enjoy many improvements. Cosmetic repairs have already begun, and more substantial changes are now underway. In honor of Henry’s passion for knowledge of decoy carving and collecting, a new study nook will be installed in the gallery. A reading desk area will feature books Henry authored, as well as resources and information about historical carvers whose antique decoys fill the displays. Visitors can relax and take time to come to understand the antique decoys that surround them, and appreciate the natural environments and heritage that supported featured carvers, and continues today. Henry’s legacy will truly be one of education and appreciation of the art-form and culture he shared with the world.

In the mid-1960s, after a particularly bad storm, Henry A. Fleckenstein (1940 – 2014) came upon an old working Canvasback decoy washed up on the shores of Kent Island, MD. This lost decoy became the first of his new collection—the beginning of Henry’s lifetime passion for old decoys and their makers.

Henry would spend the rest of his life collecting decoys, examining them, re-examining them, researching them, and talking with anybody who knew even a small fact about a bird, its maker, or its owner. Remarkably, Henry never forgot a decoy once he handled it; he was known to recall the details of specific decoys that he had not seen for many years.

Henry left the corporate world in 1974 to pursue his quest full time on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, settling in Dorchester County. In addition to collecting and selling decoys he wrote articles for decoy magazines, lectured, and attended decoy shows.

Eventually Henry authored five books on decoys, which quickly became highly revered references that stand out to this day. These were just the tip of the iceberg of his decoy knowledge.

Henry Fleckenstein had an unusual instinct to recognize each carver’s work through the evolution of their styles, just as an art connoisseur sees the changes and periods of any great artist. Yet he preferred to be called a “student” of the form and not an expert, though he ultimately gained the well-deserved title of “decoy historian.” Still, he never stopped seeking to know more, and he openly shared his knowledge with others. Because Henry Fleckenstein shared his vast knowledge with decoy collectors and admirers, the decoy collecting and carving community has benefited greatly, and many have become better students themselves.

The Ward Museum invites you to become a student of waterfowl art by utilizing this library and study space dedicated to Henry A. Fleckenstein, Jr.