The annual federal duck stamp art contest was held this past weekend, September 24-25. However, due to a recent surge caused by COVID19 variants – for the second year in a row it was not possible for the much-anticipated event to be the enjoyable public affair we have become so accustomed to – and, like so many aspects of our lives, taken for granted.
As was the case in 2020, it was decided it best to hold the contest within the Washington, D.C. area with only a limited live audience; the USFWS opting instead to stream the judging for both day one and day two live on youtube via a link on their website (see Figure 1).
Thankfully, COVID19 could not prevent history from being made as James Hautman of Chaska, Minnesota was honored as the first artist to design the vignette for six different federal duck stamps. This broke a three-way tie with legendary Iowa wildlife artist Maynard Reece, who was selected by a special committee to design the 1948 stamp and then, once the art contest was inaugurated, proceeded to win four times for a total of five different federal designs – a record that stood for for over 40 years until it was equaled by Jame’s brother, Joe, in 2015 and then James, himself, in 2016.
There were five waterfowl species eligible this year: Blue-winged Teal, Greater White-fronted Goose, King Eider, Redhead and Ross’e Goose. Once again, the submitted artwork was required to include a “hunting element.” According to the USFWS website, “[Artists] must include [a] waterfowl hunting accessory or scene that illustrates the theme ‘celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage.’ Waterfowl hunting related accessories include, but are not limited to, elements such as hunting dogs and waterfowl decoys (more on this below).”
A total of 137 entries were judged (compared to 138 last year – see Figure 2) and low resolution scans of all the entries were provided via flickr.
Contest Rules Revised Again for 2022
Just last year, in an internet press release on May 7, 2020, the USFWS made the addition of a hunting theme element permanent starting with the 2020 art contest. According to the release, “Duck Stamps have been one of America’s most effective conservation tool [sic] for over 80 years. Showcasing the heritage of waterfowl hunting in Duck Stamps recognizes the importance of sportsmen and women to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation” (see Figure 3).
In my coverage of the 2020 contest, I commented “This permanent change in the rules was met with widespread dissatisfaction in the stamp collecting, wildlife art and wildlife conservation communities and received a mixed response from duck hunters. In fact, the decision has become fairly controversial as many concerned citizens feel the mandate has the potential to “turn off” prospective buyers that are are not enthusiastic about guns and hunting – thus potentially reducing revenue to the vital duck stamp program.”
In response to the public outcry, on June 22 of this year (2021) the USFWS proposed to revise the rule change (see Figure 4). To see the complete document, click here.
Following a period of time when all U.S. citizens were invited to write a letter expressing their feelings on this matter (with the condition that their letter be made part of the public record), on August 8, 2021 the USFWS issued a final ruling revising the contest regulations and removing the mandatory hunting element starting with the 2022 contest (see Figure 5).
Coincidentally, as I write this blog my email inbox is being flooded with people sending me links to HBO’s recent Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In the program, Oliver actually “discusses” the very subject I am writing about; duck stamps, the current contest and the change in the regulations requiring the hunting element. The segment is at various times serious, irreverent and hilarious. In addition, be forewarned – Oliver uses a lot of language that is not suitable for younger audiences (Last Week Tonight is a late night program).
However, it is a high profile publicity coup for both the duck stamp program and collecting hobby and, in his own way, Oliver makes a number of important points so I have decided to include it here:
The Judges select a Winner
The Judges for the 2021 contest were Dave Goyer, National Duck Stamp Society President; Wayne Hubbard, conservation partner; Paul Rhymer, artist; Larry Richardson, artist and Dixie Summers , conservation partner. In addition to the hunting theme element, the judges were instructed to look for entries that exhibited anatomical accuracy, [good] artistic composition and that were most suitable for a duck stamp image.
The latter speaks to keeping in mind that the winning artwork serves as the central image or vignette – and the stamp designers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) must have adequate room to place the letters and numerals around it. As they did last year, the judges at the front table sat between thick plexiglass dividers; this year all five wore masks (see Figure 6).
Of the 137 entries, 14 made it to the final round this year. When the two days of judging came to an end, James Hautman had become the program’s first six-time winner with a painting of a pair of redheads floating in the water (see Figure 7); James’ brother, Robert Hautman of Delano, Minnesota came in second with a painting of Ross’s geese and Joshua Spies of Sioux Falls, South Dakota finished in third place with a painting of a flying drake redhead.
Hautman’s redheads will serve as the basis for the vignette on the 2022-23 federal migratory bird hunting and conservation stamp which will go on sale late next June. As pointed out by John Oliver, since the federal program’s inception in 1934, duck stamp sales have raised over a billion dollars to conserve over six million acres of essential wetland habitat in the National Refuge System.
Oliver (emphatically) states “More people need to be driven to collect these stamps.” To purchase a federal duck stamp through the US Postal Service and participate in this vital conservation effort, click here. Perhaps you will join the legion of people who have become captivated by their beauty and enjoy the modest challenge (looking for just the rightsize adventure?) of acquiring the complete federal duck stamp series.
To close our coverage of this year’s contest, I have selected a short video segment produced by the local Fox9 news station in Minneapolis-St. Paul. It offers a nice summary of this year’s event and includes an interview with the winner, James Hautman:
We are fortunate (some would say blessed) that during these trying times, duck stamps remain a constant – a true feel-good story that can inject some joy into our lives and help inspire hope for the better days that surely lay ahead.