This has obviously been an unusual year and the annual duck stamp art contest was not immune from changes made to ensure public safety during the current COVID-19 Pandemic. The contest was originally scheduled to take place on the Drake University campus in Des Moines, Iowa this weekend. The much-anticipated event would have included tributes to native sons Ding Darling and Maynard Reece and featured Richard Prager’s fabulous collection of original duck stamp art.
However, it was decided that it was best to keep the contest in the Washington, D.C. area this year. It was held at the USFWS headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. Unlike past years, there was no live audience. Rather, the contest was streamed live on YouTube via a link on the USFWS website – similar to many live sporting and entertainment events in 2020, including the recent Emmy Awards (see Figure 1).
There were five species eligible this year: Brandt, Cinnamon Teal, Gadwall, Lesser Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser. In addition, the artwork was required to include a “hunting element.” A total of 140 entries were received (compared to 193 last year) and 138 of them were judged (see Figure 2).
Every year, one or more of the entries are disqualified prior to judging – usually because the artist didn’t completely follow the rules or, on rare occasion, due damage to in shipping. It should be noted that for nearly 2/3 of the entries (88), the submitting artist chose an acrylic medium. Cinnamon Teal was the most popular species among the artists (44), followed by Lesser Scaup (37), Gadwall (23), Red-breasted Merganser (21) and Brandt (15). To see scans of all 138 judged entries, click here.
The Hunting Theme Element is Now a Permanent a Requirement
As announced in an internet press release on May 7, 2020, the USFWS made the addition of a hunting theme element permanent starting with this year’s 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).
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, the 2020 Duck Stamp Contest Guide devoted four pages to listing and promoting the merits of the various ways artists chose to include the required “waterfowl hunting heritage theme” this year. These included depictions of waterfowl hunters, waterfowl hunting dogs, waterfowl decoys, duck calls, hunting blinds and camouflage, boats, shotguns and shotgun shells, falconry and managed waterfowl areas as the background of habitat scenes. To read this section in its entirety, click here and scroll down the PDF to page 23.
The Judges Select a Winner
The judges for the 2020 contest were Jane Lawson, conservation partner and artist; Eric Morris, conservation partner; Scott Pengar, artist; Donnie Satchell, conservation partner and artist and Paul Wait, 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. This year, the judges at the front table sat between thick plexiglass dividers and four of the five wore masks (see Figure 4).
When the two days of judging came to an end, Richard Clifton of Milford, Delaware had become a two-time winner (his first winning entry appeared on the 2007-08 federal stamp) with a painting of a single lesser scaup drake (see Figure 5); James Hautman of Chaska, Minnesota came in second with a painting of a flock of lesser scaup and his brother, Joseph, of Plymouth, Minnesota finished in third place – also with a flock of lesser scaup.
A few notes: Clifton’s lesser scaup artwork will serve as the basis for the vignette on the 2021-22 federal migratory bird hunting and conservation stamp which will go on sale next July. Against the odds, Cinnamon Teal, which started the weekend with the most entries (44) did not capture any of the top three spots. Finally, the medium used by all three top finishers was acrylic – thus continuing a very long trend which started in the late 1980s.
Back to Drake University in 2021
Assuming it is safe to do so, the 2021 contest will take place at Drake University on September 25 and 26, 2021.The program will remain the same, albeit a year delayed. Stamp collectors, wildlife art lovers and conservation enthusiasts should not fret, however, as it promises to be a special event – one that can help to restore some much needed normality and joy to our lives. Well worth the wait!