The 2017 Duck Stamp Contest: A Once in a Lifetime Experience by Richard Prager –  Part Two

Saturday was a new day; same morning routine. However, this day had a more serious tone to it. Breakfast in the hotel with the same crew and then over to the Noel Fine Arts Center to preview the remaining 64 entries at 8am. The 64 remaining entries were of higher overall quality and the judges had to vote using a scale of 1 to 5 in Round 2 with 5 being the highest score. You could see at the preview, all of the judges were very focussed.


Day Two – Reviewing the Entries

We spent almost an hour carefully reviewing the entries, again engaging Walt to discuss No. 89. Walt brought in stuffed ducks for us to look at the actual coloring of the feathers, helping to make his point. Finally, Larry said enough discussion. Walt was incredibly helpful. I almost stumped him on day one when I asked if a Harlequin Duck could be found on a branch as one entry depicted. Walt went away and did some research, including asking Jacob – the technical answer was yes; however, not likely unless a low lying branch near the water. I took this to say the composition was not accurate.

Preview over – back to the green room. Again, the time went fast as we were all comfortable with each other and we chatted the time away – surprisingly with little to no discussion about the contest. We did all exchange contact details with the intent to stay connected as a group. We will always be “the” judges of the 2017 contest.



Jane Kim taking copious notes.



Tim Pearson, Jacob Straub and Robert Spoerl all studying the 64 Round 2 entries.



Jane Kim, Suzanne Fellows, Tim Pearson, Roberta Laine and Robert Spoerl in green room prior to Round 2.



Like the prior day, the contest started at 10am with speeches. Valerie Cisler, Dean of Fine Arts and Communications was one of the speakers. Valerie partnered with Christine Thomas to host the contest. Valerie’s message really resonated – she highlighted the inter-disciplinary benefit of Arts and Natural Resources – the very foundation of the Duck Stamp Program.

The final speaker was Greg Sheehan, the acting Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Greg mentioned that next year the contest will have more focus on the hunter – stay tuned as next year the program is on track to surpass a billion dollars raised to date!

Greg also told us in the green room that next year’s contest was going to be in Vegas! Greg’s only gaffe was introducing me as Dennis Prager (an American conservative and nationally syndicated radio talk show host) – this despite the fact my name was clearly on my name plate… such is life.



Greg Sheehan.



Again down to business – Round 2 began at about 10:30am. We voted for one hour straight on all 64 entries. The judges only heard the entry number, then “please vote” followed by “thank you”. Other than our own individual score, we had no idea what the total scores were. All scores would range from from 5 to 25.

After the hour – back to the green room. Larry joined us to say we had the lucky dozen. The rules state that the five highest scores make it through to Round 3 and any entry with one of the five highest scores are included. Of course the judges did not know the five highest scores. The twelve remaining entries were displayed on a panel for viewing in the green room. At that point Walt did highlight an imperfection on one Harlequin Duck. Other minor questions were asked and after a seemingly quick 15 minutes – we took our front row seats again.



Round 2 survivors.



At that point Greg Sheehan presented last year’s winner, Jim Hautman, with a pane of stamps signed by the Secretary of the Interior. This annual tradition commemorates the prior year’s winner and reminds us all that the art precedes the actual stamps. Jim made a very nice speech – most noteworthy was his comment that he derives far more from the program, including his wife Dorothy who he met through the program, than he gives to the program via his art. His words were from the heart and very personal.



2016 winner Jim Hautman and Greg Sheehan with pane of stamps signed by the Secretary of the Interior.



The Final Round

On to the final round – Round 3. Although I attended last year’s contest in Philadelphia and knew how fast the final round takes – as a judge, it went as fast as a blink of an eye. This time we had the numbers 3 to 5 in front of us – again 5 being the highest score. Thus, each entry could receive a total of 15 to 25. We had been warned that ties for first, second and third place were not uncommon and that Larry would brief us on the tie breaker rules if required.

We started with entry No. 48. For the first time, you could hear the crowd react to votes despite the fact that audience was asked to stay silent during voting. The first real uproar was after we voted on entry No. 127 – it was clear the vote must have been a perfect 25 to illicit such a response. Before you knew it we were at the final entry of Round 3, No. 216 – and again the crowd reacted with a roar. To be honest, I thought the roar meant we had a tie.

Larry went to the gallery to confer with the official score keeper. He then came down and much to my surprise he said “thank you to the judges, you have done your job – we have a clear winner and second and third place as well”. I was relieved – no tie breaker.

Larry then invited Greg back onto the stage to announce the results. Third place went to Christine Clayton (scored 22), the former Junior Duck Stamp winner and a real bright light for the future. Second place went to Greg Alexander (scored 24) who currently resides in Wisconsin, so you can imagine the sigh from the audience. Sadly, Greg was not present.

Then, the moment we had all been waiting for… The winner – entry No. 127 – perfect score of 25 – Bob Hautman. Bob was truly thankful. He remarked it had been a long time since the last one (2000 in fact). He also wished to thank his brothers for not being in the contest – having won the prior two years. This was Bob’s third win and the Hautman brother’s 13th overall – just amazing.

That’s when the scripted agenda ended and the judges, artists and Duck Stamp office and other officials could all commingle. For me it was a relief – I could finally talk with the artists. I went down and met with Adam Grimm, Tim Taylor and Rebekah Knight. I was very nervous to meet with them as I did not know their entry numbers and whether they would be mad at me. I then learned that Adam was entry No. 124 and Rebekah was No. 174 (they both had scores of 17 in the second round and did not make it through) – I had given them both a 4.

Other than Tim joking with me that it was my fault, both Adam and Rebekah were very gracious. I had several artists come up to me and thank me for my “5” votes – including Christine Clayton and her father – such nice people. To be honest, my only concern about being a judge was the fact that I would make one artist happy and disappoint he rest. This did weigh on me given my emotional connection to so many of them.

Then back onto stage for pictures. Bob came up to me – clearly happy to see me. I congratulated him and of course he thanked me.



Richie Prager and Bob Hautman with 2017 winning entry.



All five judges with their respective score with Bob Hautman and his 2017 winning entry.



We then took pictures with the third place winner, Christine Clayton, and the judges. When I went back to the green room for the final time to collect my personal items, Suzanne was waiting there to present each judge with a token of appreciation from the Duck Stamp Office – it was a first day cover of the 2016 winner in a frame with a personalized note on the back – something I will always cherish as you can only serve as a full judge once. You can serve as an alternate and then automatically be a full judge the following year.

While it could be argued that being asked to be a full judge this year (instead of being the Alternate as originally planned) cost me a second official role with the contest – I do not mind at all.



All five judges with Christine Clayton.



Former Junior Duck Stamp winner Christine Clayton and now three time Federal Duck Stamp winner Bob Hautman.



After pictures, the judges, winner and family, and officials went next door for an informal lunch. It felt more like a Hautman family meal with Bob, Joe, Jim and Dorothy all there. I sat with Bob and just chatted – he was still all smiles. Christine and Valerie were honored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and both of them and their respective colleges were presented with plaques. I had to run off to the airport for a flight home so I made the rounds and said goodbye to everyone – either hugs or handshakes one by one. As I was walking back to the car I saw Larry and said goodbye to him too. That was it – the event was over –  45 hours hours just sailed past.


My Final Tributes

UWSP – Christine and Valerie, you must be so proud. Christine, the weekend was yours – you beamed with pride and shined when you spoke. Who knew such a graceful lady is a passionate supporter of wildlife and a hunter too – you were the perfect host. Thank you for the vision and tenacity. I did not even mind all the “Pointer” pride. Of course Christine appropriately deflects credit; she is quick to cite Stacey Allen Bannach from her office and Julie Sittler from Valerie’s office.

The Duck Stamp Office – Suzanne and Rachel, what you do is special. Cat herding the many artists, judges and many other actors in the background cannot be easy. You are always smiling and helpful and clearly know what you are doing – well done. Suzanne now has her work cut out for her making sure the stamp production goes to plan while planning next year’s contest.

USFW and Department of the Interior Officials – Larry and Walt, you are truly professionals. When one hears the nickname, Larry Legend, you may think of Larry Bird – I will now think of you. You really know what you are doing and run the contest efficiently, ethically and confidently – thank you.



Walt Rhodes, Suzanne Fellows, Larry Mellinger and Christine Thomas.



My Fellow Judges – What a treat; Jane, Bob, Tim, Jacob and Roberta – we now have a common bond for life. Just think: artists and biologists hanging with hunters and stamp collectors (who happens to be a hunter, a Zoology major and a finance guy from NYC). We done good – the bar was high and I heard nothing but compliments from the artists. Given they would be the ones who could have an issue with our performance – I think we received high praise. I do hope we stay in touch.

The Artists – this contest would not happen without you. Thank you to all 227 and the 74 additional entries – both old friends back in the game and newbies. Some of you are friends and those I do not know – I hope we meet some day. I am personally thankful to all of you – you are truly gifted.



Two time winner Adam Grimm, Hannah Grim and Tim Taylor.



Thank you Richie, for sharing this wonderful experience and allowing us all an inside look into the federal duck stamp contest. It has always been our vision at Waterfowl Stamps and More to one day open this blog to participation by others – so that they may share their experiences and interests with the rest of our fish and game community. This is the power of the internet. It is hoped that with the addition of these guest blogs, our cumulative knowledge and frames of reference will expand more quickly as we move forward and bring us closer to realizing the goal of becoming your comprehensive fish and game resource.


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