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ARTIST PROFILE: Ward is the go-to artist for Lake Placid’s BBQ Festival

June 28, 2019
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE-All the posters for Lake Placid's I Love BBQ and Music Festivals over the past 14 years have at least two things in common: pigs and the distinctive touch of artist John "Doc" Ward.

"I do the paintings. They do whatever with them for the posters," he said.

This year's illustration depicts a muscle-bound weight-lifting porker holding a heavy barbell weighted down on each side by a giant slab of barbecued ribs as puffs of smoke shoot from his ears.

Article Photos

John “Doc” Ward holds a painting of his bulldog, Kodos, at his home in Saranac Lake.
(Provided photo — Steve Lester)

Such posters are not the only places where you can find samples of his art. Ward either has them currently on display or has had them in the recent past at such places as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, the U.S. embassy in Swaziland, Africa, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the United Nations in New York City, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and in children's books on The New York Times best seller list.

Ward has also painted former presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been a steady customer for about 20 years. One of his subjects was Rear Admiral Errol M. Brown, who in 1998 became the first African American named to the promotion list for flag officer in the Coast Guard's then 208-year history. The Coast Guard has expressed its gratitude by presenting Ward the prestigious Public Service Commendation award for civilians.

His work space has numerous other awards and commendations adorning the walls downstairs in the roughly 3,000-square-foot house he designed, and where he lives with Jane, his wife of 32 years, along with son Liam and his bulldog Kodos. All of the awards are related to his artwork with one exception from Niagara University, where he played rugby as one of the Purple Eagles and earned his bachelor's degree in prelaw.

The award declares him a member of the school's Rugby Football Club Hall of Fame.

"That one's my favorite," Ward said. "It sounds silly for all the things I've done with my art, but that's my favorite award."

Ward's education is extensive with his prelaw degree and a virtual collection of master's degrees, one each in art, art education and illustration.

He credits his mother for being his earliest influence.

"Mom was very artistic," he said. "But with seven kids, she didn't get to do too much artwork."

Although his father was not artistic, Ward described him as "a gentle man who was always very supportive."

After earning his bachelor's degree, Ward did store security work in Chicago and then at the Alcoa plant in his hometown of Massena. During this time period, his parents went on a rare vacation together, he said, where his father decided it was time to retire. Later that same day, he didn't feel well. A subsequent trip to the doctor revealed a brain tumor.

Ward then realized how short life could be, so why not spend it doing something he enjoys?

In time, he landed an art teaching position at the Saranac Lake Central School District and stayed there until his retirement 30 years later.

"I loved the kids and really fed off their energy," he said. "My students and I did murals all over town."

Ward got his nickname "Doc" from those very kids.

"My students nicknamed me Doc my first year teaching. They said I ran my class like an insane asylum, and I was the doctor in charge. One student who gave me that name went on to be my principal. The nickname stuck like glue. It is what most people call me," he said.

These days, Ward said, most of his artwork involves doing portraits as he showed off a newly completed piece depicting a wedding couple.

And then, of course, there are those pigs on the annual posters for the I Love BBQ and Music Festival, which will be held July 5-7 at the Olympic Speedskating Oval.



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