In today’s post we shall continue discussing the career of Les Kouba. We will learn about his relationship with fellow artist Edward Morris and see more of how prominently Cornelius Bartels figured into the careers of both men.
If the name Edward Morris sounds familiar, it should be. Ed Morris was a fine artist in his own right and will always be known as the only one to win the federal duck stamp contest two years in a row, in 1960 and 1961.
What you may not know, is that for many years Ed Morris assisted Les Kouba in running American Wildlife Art Galleries in Minneapolis. In return, Les mentored Ed when it came to his wildlife art and encouraged him to pursue this path. As it concerns wildlife art, Ed Morris has sometimes been viewed as Les Kouba’s protege.
When Ed Morris won the contest back-to-back, he briefly eclipsed his mentor’s fame and ruffled Kouba’s feathers. This led to a short-lived falling out between the two artists. For those who may have known Les – or have heard of his swollen ego discussed – it is tempting to jump to conclusions and assign blame. As we shall soon see, maybe Les had a good reason for getting upset.
Edward A. Morris
Edward A. Morris was born in Philadelphia on July 28, 1917 – the same year as Les Kouba. He was, by all accounts, a very private man. For that reason, very little is known about his background and personal life.
According to Russell Fink and Randy Herschman, Ed spent eight years in the Marine Corps. This included serving in WWII, after which time he was honorably discharged. Following the war, Ed took advantage of the GI Bill and studied at the Philadelphia College of Art. He subsequently became widely respected for his sublime landscapes (see Figure 1).
Ed soon married a woman named Helen and they had two children; Edward Junior and a daughter, Mary Ellen. In the 1950s, after completing his studies in Philadelphia, Ed moved his family to Minnesota. It was at this time that Les Kouba was expanding his business; first moving to the Plymouth Building in downtown Minneapolis and then rebranding as American Wildlife Art Galleries.
As you may remember from part one, American Wildlife Art Galleries specialized in handling the work of wildlife and western artists. For a period of time in the 1950s and 1960s, Ed Morris was widely acclaimed as one of this country’s greatest western artists. In the eyes of Randy Herschman, Ed had few peers as a western artist and “was even better than Remington or Russell at their peak”.
This did not go unnoticed by Les Kouba, who invited Ed to sell his work through the Gallery. Kouba’s enterprise was booming in the 1950s and Ed soon came to help Les in running the Gallery. It was Ed that held down the fort while Les away on business or participating in sporting activities. Ed would occupy a central position at American Wildlife Art Galleries, on and off, into the 1970s (when Randy would take his place).
As wildlife art was the Gallery’s primary focus and biggest seller, Ed began to spend more time establishing this segment of his repertoire. According to Randy, Les often helped Ed with his wildlife artwork, especially his layout and perspective.
It was while Ed was working in the Gallery that Les won his first federal duck stamp contest in 1957. Although Ed was the polar opposite of Les when it came to ego, he was known as a tough marine and he was confident in his abilities. Inspired by Kouba’s win, Ed began to spend more time improving his own waterfowl art.
In a few years (with Kouba’s help and support), Ed decided to enter the contest, himself.
The 1960 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest
On July 27, 1960, The USFWS announce the 12th annual duck stamp design contest. This was the third contest to feature a theme; in this case “Habitat Produces Ducks”. The first stamp to incorporate a theme into its design was Maynard Reece’s 1959-60 issue featuring King Buck, “Retrievers Save Game”. This was followed by “Wildlife Needs Water – Preserve Wetlands” on the 1960-61 issue.
According to Daniel H. Janzen, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The need for saving wetlands for waterfowl is becoming more acute each year and we must continue to emphasize the need for action in acquiring vital wetlands for the production of waterfowl (see Figure 2).
Not only did Edward Morris enter a black and white watercolor into the 1960 contest, he won with what would prove to be one of the most popular duck stamp images of all time – a mallard hen surrounded by eight baby ducklings (see Figures 3 and 4). The stamp is a favorite among women and children and is reminiscent of the 1941-42 issue featuring Edwin Kalmbach’s family of Ruddy ducks, only in multi-color.
1961-62 Stamps Issued
After the artwork was selected by the judges, it went to stamp designer Victor S. McCloskey. McCloskey’s many credits include designing the classic 1940-41 federal stamp, whose artwork was created by the legendary Minnesota artist Francis Lee Jaques, the aforementioned 1941-42 stamp and co-designing the iconic 1959-60 stamp featuring King Buck. For more on Victor McCloskey, see My Favorite Federal Duck Stamp – Part One.
McCloskey took the artwork that was created by Morris and used it for the central vignette. He then designed the finished stamp, complete with frame lines, lettering and denomination (face value). Once McCloskey was finished designing the stamp, it was turned over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Two engravers were assigned to produce die proofs. The vignette was engraved by Richard M. Bower, while the frame lines, lettering and numerals were engraved by Howard F. Sharpless. There are no large or small die proofs in collector’s hands. The finished product was produced using a Giori rotary press (see Figure 5).
The Alvin Broholm Connection
Shortly before the stamps were to go on sale (July 1, 1961), Alvin Broholm wrote to Ed Morris asking if he would sign a stamp for his collection (see Figure 6).
Ed replied in the affirmative and Broholm sent Ed two stamps; a top plate number single to be signed and returned and also a single for Ed to use when hunting (see Figures 7 and 8).
If you are a regular follower of this blog, you will recognize this is pretty much the standard Broholm reference when I am writing about federal waterfowl stamp artists. However, in this particular case, there is something extra to share which is relevant to our story.
In the fall of 1961, Ed Morris wrote another letter to Alvin Broholm. In it, he tells Alvin that he has searched out “the finest artist I know to do an etching of the stamp design [for the purposes of producing limited edition prints]… I have commissioned a Dutch etcher, accomplished in this field, to create a dry point etching the size of past prints to conform with collectors demands” (see Figure 9).
While Ed does not mention the “Dutch etcher” by name, we can quickly deduce he was referring to Cornelius Bartels. As Bartels had just recently completed engraving and printing the 1958-59 second edition prints for Les Kouba and as Ed was working for Les in the Gallery at the time – it probably didn’t take too much “searching” on the part of Morris.
The 1961-62 Federal Print
Cornelius Anton Bartels engraved and printed the singular edition for Ed Morris. The image size was 6.625″ x 9.25″. The prints were pulled using black ink on antique white English Text paper. There were 250 regular signed and numbered prints plus 25 artists proofs that were not designated as such. The regular edition was titled and signed by Edward A. Morris in pencil (see Figure 10).
In the Errata and Addenda section of Duck Stamp Prints, Russell Fink states, “Ed Morris… accidentally numbered 50 of the prints from 1 to 50. The edition was meant to be unnumbered, so he simply signed the remaining prints prints which carry no numbers. The total edition still remains at 250 (50 of which are numbered) …” (see Figure 11).
For those of you read The Making of an Icon – Part Four, you may remember I pointed out that producing a duck stamp is a team effort. In my opinion, the stamp designer, BEP engravers and whoever selects the final color (or colors) deserve some of the credit for the finished product.
When talking about limited edition prints, we often encounter a similar situation. There have been very few instances where the artist has drawn the litho stone or engraved the metal plate and pulled the prints himself. In most cases the person who created the original artwork (in this case Ed Morris) is not the person who drew the stone or engraved the plate for the prints (in this case Bartels).
Here we have the extreme case of a Dutch master engraver creating the prints for a duck stamp artist. While Ed designed the original artwork (more on this soon), Bartels etched the plate, proofed the image and pulled the prints.
It seems clear that Bartels deserves much of the credit for creating this piece, one of the most exquisite and highly sought after prints in the series.
Giving Credit Where it is Due
I met Les Kouba and Randy Herschman in 1982. I was in Minneapolis to meet the family of my girlfriend, Kay (now my wife of 28 years) for the first time. Kay’s father was an attorney who had an office in downtown Minneapolis, in the Plymouth Building.
One day I had driven into the city to have lunch with my future father-in-law, Jack Brown. When we returned from lunch, we got into the elevator and then another man joined us. Jack and the man exchanged greetings and chatted a bit. Then Jack turned to me and said, “David, this is someone I think you should know – meet Les Kouba”. It was a wonderful surprise.
Of course, I already knew who Les Kouba was and had done business with Randy over the phone. However, I had not met Les in person and did not recognize him when he entered the elevator. It turns out that Jack’s office was located directly (one floor) below American Wildlife Art galleries.
Les invited me up and so began a long and successful relationship with Les and especially Randy, who by this point was managing the Gallery. Each time I returned to Minnesota (3-4 times a year in those days) I made it a point to have lunch with Jack, then visit the Gallery.
Eventually, I was entrusted to help sell the Gallery’s vast archive that included prints by virtually all of the duck stamp artists – starting with Ding Darling and Frank Benson. Now, I am going to share with you some historic pieces that I kept for myself. They have not been seen by anyone for decades.
For the 1961-62 federal, I have two prints that are quite revealing. First, I have Proof No. 1; titled and signed “printed by C.A. Bartels” (see Figure 12).
The second is going to come as a surprise and is admittedly something of an ambush – so brace yourself; a print that Bartels titled “1961-62 Duck Stamp Design by Leslie Kouba… Etching and Printed by C.A. Bartels” (see Figures 13a and b).
So just how much did Les Kouba actually contribute to the 1961-62 federal duck stamp design? Perhaps, a great deal. At this point, we will never know for sure. We can be certain, however, that the prints, themselves, would not be so magnificent without the participation of the master engraver, Cornelius Bartels.
The 1961 Federal Duck Stamp Contest
Encouraged by his recent success, Ed decided to enter the contest again, in 1961. For this particular contest, the Department of the Interior requested artists submit entries “drawn to show the duck in good gun range”. The 1962-63 duck stamp was intended to “emphasize an educational program of the Fish and Wildlife Service to ‘Know Your Ducks’, to ‘To Let ‘Em Come In Close’, and ‘Be Sure Before You Shoot’.
The hunter who follows these practices will not kill protected birds by mistake nor will he accidentally kill a female when he has promised himself that this year he will shoot only drakes” (see Figure 14).
Ed Morris entered a black and white watercolor (wash) of two pintail drakes coming in for a landing (see Figure 15). Ed’s artwork featured an engaging composition and the stamps and prints that were based upon it have been perennial favorites. For the first (and only) time in the history of the contest, the same artist won for the second year in a row (see Figure 16).
While a truly remarkable feat that Ed Morris could feel proud of, it did not come without some added controversy. By this point one artist, Maynard Reece, had three federal stamps to his credit. Now another artist, Edward Morris, had won the contest two years in a row.
It was now seen as a possibility for one or two artists to dominate the competition. According to Russell Fink, after Reece won twice more, in 1969 and 1971, the Department of the Interior created a rule preventing contest winners from participating for a three-year period (see Figure 17).
1962-63 Stamps Issued
After the pintails artwork was selected by the judges, it again went to stamp designer Victor S. McCloskey. He took the artwork created by Morris and used it for the central vignette. He then designed the finished stamp, complete with frame lines, lettering and denomination (face value). When McCloskey was done, the design was turned over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
The same two engravers were assigned to produce die proofs. The vignette was engraved by Richard M. Bower, while the frame lines, lettering and numerals were engraved by Howard F. Sharpless. Once again, there are no large or small die proofs in collector’s hands and the finished product was produced using a Giori rotary press (see Figure 18).
Whoever was responsible for selecting the color scheme (likely McCloskey) outdid themselves. This, combined with Ed’s composition, resulted in a duck stamp with more eye appeal than most and was one of my favorites as a young collector.
Broholm Correspondence is Revealing
After winning the contest for the second consecutive year, Ed’s relationship with Les Kouba became strained. I was not around then and cannot tell you what took place. Perhaps Les resented the fact that he was not given enough credit for helping Ed with his artwork, especially the 1961-62 duck stamp entry.
What we do know is that the two men had a falling out and that Ed was involved with American Wildlife Art Galleries on a sporadic basis for the next several years. The Broholm correspondence is especially revealing as it concerns Ed’s location during this period of time.
Just prior to the 1962-63 stamp going on sale, Alvin Broholm once again contacted Ed to see if he would be willing to sign a stamp for his collection and exhibit. Ed responded with a quick note to say “he would be delighted…” What is telling here is the address listed on Ed’s “informal stationary”. He is (at this time) no longer working out of American Wildlife Galleries on the 8th floor – but out of a separate space on the 3rd floor (see Figure 19). Ed did sign the stamp for Broholm (see Figure 20).
The 1962-63 Federal Print
Once again, Cornelius Bartels engraved the singular 1962-63 print edition for Ed Morris. The image size was 6.5″ x 9″. The prints were pulled using black ink on antique white English Text paper. There were 250 regular signed and numbered prints plus 25 artists proofs that were not designated as such. The regular edition was titled and signed by Edward A. Morris in pencil (see Figure 21).
None of the regular edition 1962-63 prints were numbered by Ed. I would like to close out this post by sharing another print from the American Wildlife Galleries Archive. It should be noted that for the 1962-63 issue, Bartels felt the design credit should go primarily to Edward Morris and not Les Kouba (see Figure 22 a and b).
According to Randy, it was not long before the two men patched up their differences. By the mid 1960s, Ed was back in the Gallery assisting Les as before. Soon, it would be Les Kouba’s turn to reclaim the spotlight.