The Call of the Wild: Three Talented Brothers from Minnesota Have Made an Art out of Winning the Federal Duck Stamp Contest

By Kreiter, Ted | The Saturday Evening Post, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

The Call of the Wild: Three Talented Brothers from Minnesota Have Made an Art out of Winning the Federal Duck Stamp Contest


Kreiter, Ted, The Saturday Evening Post


Each fall in a selected U.S. city, a battle of the brushes heats up among America's wildlife artists. The object of contention is a 1 1/4" by l 3/4" perforated stamp issued yearly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a receipt for a waterfowl hunting license. Hunters are required to purchase the stamps, but thousands of nonhunters line up to buy them as well, primarily to collect the gorgeous waterfowl images that decorate them. Since their introduction in 1934, duck stamps have captured the interest of conservationists, stamp collectors, and wildlife artists nationwide. The stamps have raised 8700 million for wetlands conservation, improving the environment for ducks, geese, and other waterfowl, and probably for human beings as well. Winning the annual contest and having their art on the stamp is a dream of wildlife artists everywhere. Hundreds submit their paintings for judging every year. Among them, three brothers have made quite a name for themselves.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

Joe, Bob, and Jim Hautman of Minnesota have put their own stamp on the hallowed history of the contest by collectively sweeping first place eight times in the last 18 years--a record for a single family. The brothers also regularly take top honors in state duck stamp contests, and their art has been exhibited at the Smithsonian and the White House. So successful have the brothers been at wowing contest judges that competitors find themselves looking over their shoulders whenever a Hautman entry is around. And that is almost always the case, because at least one or two Hautman brothers enter every Federal Duck Stamp contest.

The Hautmans' prowess at winning is a hot topic in art chat rooms, where duck stamp competitors try to analyze the "secret ingredient" of their exceptional paintings. Called "The Hautman look," one artist has described it as characterized by "strong contrasts, heavy darks, crisp detail, but not too much of it, and great-looking compositions when reduced." Whatever it is, few deny that the brothers have justly earned their many wins. As one artist explained it, "the Hautmans are outrageously talented."

Not surprisingly, the winning image on the 2008-2009, 75th-anniversary duck stamp is once again a Hautman original, this time a pair of pintail ducks relaxing among reeds and outlined against a gunmetal sky, painted by Joe Hautman, 52.

Joe, the oldest of the painting brothers, has a second profession he can fall back on should he ever tire of painting ducks. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. As a young man, he recalls being torn between his two favorite subjects, science and art. He chose science and decided to paint for fun. "I was painting on the side, and my brothers kept telling me I should enter the Federal Duck Stamp contest," he says. "They had seen my work and thought I had a chance to do well." And he did. On only his fifth attempt, he won the federal contest in 1992. Thinking that might be a fluke, he entered a state contest and won it, as well. That's when he decided to trade his physics notebooks for a fulltime palette and easel. "And I really haven't regretted it at all," he says.

[ILLUSTRATIONS OMITTED]

The three brothers now live within thirty minutes of one another in the waterfowl-rich state where they grew up surrounded by hunters, wildlife, and artists. "Our mom was a professional commercial artist before she married," Joe says, "and she used to invite her artist friends over to paint. Dad used to hunt, and he kept all his duck stamps. He wasn't really a collector, but he just liked the images on them. He had a collection of all of them since the very first one in 1934. I think it is interesting because that's part of the whole argument for having the pictorial duck stamp. It's something that draws people into it. It's not like having a number on your hunting license; it's something that makes people think about ducks and want to learn more about them. …

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