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Back Bay Wildfowl Guild Memories

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Back Bay Wildfowl Guild or Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum; Confused?

We are often asked, here at the museum, what is the differences between the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild and the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum. So we thought we would try to answer that question in this edition of the Wildfowler. The Back Bay Wildfowl Guild came first. It was originally organized in 1974 after Fletcher Bryant, Jim cook, Bill Dekker and Lee Scarborough came home from the Ward Foundation Museum’s World Carving Championships in Salisbury MD. On the return trip, they discussed the possibility of producing a similar type of show here in Virginia Beach to reflect the work of local artist, woodcarvers, and photographers.

Sixteen men showed up for the first organizational meeting that formed the nucleolus of the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild. The group elected Fletcher Bryant as its first president and decided to produce a show to raise funds in order to establish a waterfowl museum in Virginia Beach at sometime in the future. They then set out to grow their new organization into several hundred very talented artist, woodcarvers, and photographers.

The first Mid-Atlantic Wildfowl Festival was held in October of 1976, 45 years ago at the Alan B. Shepard Civic Center (the old Dome). The show occuppied all of the Dome and spilled out onto the parking lot under several very large tents. The charter members worked closely with the City of Virginia Beach to produce the first festival. They personally underwrote the contract for this event that was very successful. With the initial and subsequent successful annual festivals, they were convinced that one day the fruits of their labor would be realized in a waterfowl museum.

To establish a credible presence in the community, the Back Bay Wildfowl Guild, contributed $10,000 (the largest single donation

at the time) to the fund raising efforts of the Virginia Marine Science Museum. Fletcher Bryant, Bill Walsh, and Larry Lambert met with the new Marine Science Museum Director, Mac Rawls. They convinced him that wildfowl were an important part of the Chesapeake Bay estuary system. This led to the development of the Carver’s Shack, a Guild funded exhibit depicting old working decoys being hand carved by our, now deceased brother, Charlie Seidel, who was the Museum Carver in residence for more than 30 years.

The festival moved from the Dome to the newly finished Pavilion Convention Center in 1981. Attendance for the show reached its maximum in 1988, when Dave Butz, a member of the Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins appeared as a carving exibitor. Dave learned to carve decoys from his uncle. More than 10,000 people attended that festival.

Our break came in 1992 when an article appeared in the Virginian Pilot, stating that the deWitt cottage was being purchased by the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Beach Foundation was to be responsible for the renovation of the building. The city was undecided on the use of the building but possibilities included a tea house, a Garden Club home, a home for special guest of the city, or a second police precinct. Fletcher Bryant, after reading the article, discussed the idea of a waterfowl museum with several council members and found them receptive. It was decided to appear before City Council with a plan for the museum. City Council also heard from several other organizations that sought the cottage for various uses; but, they voted to allow the Guild to occupy the cottage, a 20 year dream was about to be realized.

A curatorial committee was appointed by the board of directors of the Guild to develop a story line for the museum. They would also design, supervise and construct all exhibits.The Guild would assist the Virginia Beach Foundation with their effort to convert the 100 year old cottage into a waterfowl museum, gift shop and home for the Guild. The Guild pledged $55,000 toward the renovation efforts of the Virginia Beach Foundation that proved to be the stimulus for the fund raising efforts. After many months of planning, renovating, stocking, and collecting exhibit materials the Guild had its dream come true; we have a home and museum. The City of Virginia

Beach maintains the building while the Guild operates the museum and gift shop. The Back Bay Wildfowl Guild moved in to the house in 1995 under the name Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Center. It was renamed Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum a few years later.

Next month we will explore the history of the deWitt Cottage itself.

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