EASTON - "I'd like to open the 42nd Waterfowl Festival - enjoy!" Waterfowl Festival President Ronald J. Flohr said Thursday afternoon as he pronounced the 2012 Festival officially open at the Avalon Theatre.
There were cheers and applause. The official preview party for the Festival at the Avalon Theatre was packed with VIP donors who were chomping at the bit to get the first peek at this year's collection of paintings, sculpture and carvings.
Waterfowl Festival officials opened the festival by thanking the preview party sponsor, the Avon-Dixon Agency. They honored 25-year veteran exhibitors and 25-year veteran volunteers.
Masterclass Instructors Heiner Hertling, Chris Vigneri and Claude Taylor were given an appreciative nod by the Festival officials.
Featured artist Mark Eberhard of Terrace Park, Ohio, took a bow for his paintings.
The Master Carver is Del Herbert of Chula Vista, Calif., whose Master Carving, "Cycle of Life" is on display in the Chesapeake Carving Gallery at the Academy Art Museum.
Two longtime supporters, C. John Sullivan of Fallston and Ed Itter of Pasadena, were honored for their service to the Festival.
Sullivan has been collecting decoys since he was 13 and writing about waterfowling history for four decades. His contribution to waterfowling education and Eastern Shore lore has been invaluable.
Itter has exhibited at the Festival for 40 years and is responsible for developing many of the children's activities at the Festival. His decoy painting class introduces at least 50 children a year to the joy of representing waterfowl.
The 2013-2014 Federal Duck Stamp Winner Robert Steiner of San Francisco was introduced to the crowd by Cyndi Perry of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Perry was accompanied by "Nathan," an 18-month old dog who is in training to be a service dog for disabled veterans in the Veterans Moving Forward program.
Perry praised the Federal Duck Stamp program for providing conservation funds to wetlands for many decades.
She said that over the years, the program has conserved six million acres, roughly the size of the state of Vermont.
In Maryland, more than 6,000 acres have been preserved.
Steiner has been entering the contest for more than 30 years and has won once before. His artwork was used for the 1998-1999 Federal Duck stamp.
This year, his painting of a single Common Goldeneye duck stood out from the 192 entries, quickly eliminating the competition, according to Perry.
Steiner seemed a little overwhelmed with all the kudos at first, then launched into tales of artwork mishaps. He told the crowd about the time he and his buddies hopped a train just after they graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Steiner and his friends could not find a box car to get into, so they jumped inside an old refrigerated unit with the door ajar. The train took off, stopping at various places. At one point, they looked out to see a guard chasing someone out of a boxcar. Then the guard came by and slammed the door shut on their unit.
Steiner said his buddies were very upset and started to panic. They were afraid they were going to die. The train took off, and eventually stopped where the refrigerated car was to be rolled off the track and stored. By chance, a worker opened the door of the unit and found them.
"You see, my life was saved so I could win the Federal Duck Stamp Contest," Steiner said. "I've been very blessed."
The 25-year anniversary exhibitors who were honored included Reggie Burch, Adele Earnshaw, Chuck Robertson, Manfred K. Scheel, Vance Strausburg, C. John Sullivan, G. Lee Walker, and Rick Watson.
The 25-year anniversary volunteers who were honored included Blenda Armistead, Janet Bailey, Dan Cowee, Wink Cowee, Cindy Doupnick, Cindy Driscoll, John Driscoll, Brent Garner, Mary Ann Hambleton, Theresa Harrison, Cecilia Houvenaars, Lois Larrimore, Sue Ella Meadows, Kenneth Phillips, Amy Steward, and Patti Willis.
The Waterfowl Festival continues with galleries, venues, food, entertainment, activities and demonstrations in the town of Easton this weekend through Sunday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.