Leo Ward, the creator of Arkansas' Bluebird of Happiness, died Monday.
Ward, 89, died of cancer after a short stay in a hospice facility.
He created a small, glass bluebird in 1982, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Since then, more than 9 million of them have been sold through Terra Studios near Durham in Washington County.
The glass bluebirds have become ubiquitous across America.
Leo Ward used the money to fund other artistic and economic endeavors.
"He was proud of the fact that it worked and made money," said Bill Ward, his son.
Leo William Ward was born Dec. 12, 1927, in Bluestone, Ky., at the head of Long Hungry Branch, said his daughter, Lynda Ward.
He was orphaned at the age of 3 when his mother died. After that, he lived with different family members.
"He pretty much ran wild in the hills," Lynda Ward said. "He was a seeker his whole life. He managed to make it out of the hills of Kentucky by joining the Army and serving three years in the Korean conflict."
Leo Ward married Rita Ferguson in 1950. They had three children, Bill, Lynda and John, all of whom live in or near Fayetteville.
Leo Ward earned two degrees from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. -- a bachelor's in biology and a master's in English.
After getting his master's degree, he taught English to men at Pendleton prison in Indiana.
Later, he taught at Palomar College in San Marcos, Calif.
While living in nearby Vista, Calif., Leo and Rita Ward started a glass and ceramics study. But the city shut it down because they were manufacturing in a residential neighborhood, said Lynda Ward.
"That's when he threw up his hands," she said. "He'd had enough with California."
The family moved to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas in 1975. Rita Ward's mother owned property in nearby Winslow.
In Durham, Leo and Rita Ward started Terra Studios, which eventually became a 160-acre venue for artisans.
In a 2002 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Terra Studios was described as "a whimsical village."
"Ward says what he and wife Rita most enjoy about Terra is the flow of tourists who come to wander the studio's grounds," wrote Joyce McGowan. "Visitors are entranced by the impish clay Terrans, animals, plants, dragons, gnomes, trolls and other figments of Rita's and his wild imaginations."
"Rita is the queen of whimsy," Leo Ward told McGowan. "She's the one responsible for all of the fantastical characters. I'm Father Zeus around here and she's Mother Goose."
Leo Ward retired in 2006. He and Rita haven't owned Terra Studios for several years.
Lynda Ward said her father wrote poetry and several novels, none of which were published.
"He loved to write and inspired many students in creative writing," she said.
Metro on 10/18/2017
Print Headline: Bluebirds’ creator offered joyful art