Pitching into Cypress
"I don't think an artist who paints mainly waterfowl and upland birds could have a higher honor than being named Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year
," Maass said. "And winning it for the fourth time in my career is almost unbelievable. I am both tremendously honored and humbled. It was special the first time I did it, and it's just as big an honor now."
Like most of Maass's work, this year's winning painting was inspired by a personal visit—to Arkansas
this time around. A special invitation resulted in a special moment for the self-taught artist. "My son Paul and I were going duck hunting in Arkansas. A man named Tom Garrott contacted me, knowing I was going to be there. He invited me to come see his duck club with the idea that I might do a painting of it," Maass said.
"It proved to be a wonderful opportunity," Maass added. "The site was all cypress. That intrigued me, as I had seldom painted a whole stand of those magnificent trees. We had the full experience—watching ducks come in and even shooting a few. When I called Tom and told him that his painting had been selected as DU's Artist of the Year piece, I believe he was just as excited as I was."
Ducks Unlimited members will likely share that same excitement when this print is unveiled in 2013 at fundraising events
nationwide. The accompanying art package offers an intriguing mix of wildlife images created by an outstanding cast of talented artists.
Maass is hardly a stranger to Ducks Unlimited. He was named DU Artist of the Year in 1974 and DU International Artist of the Year in 1988 and 2004, has served as DU's Featured Artist at the Great Outdoors Festival in Memphis, and has designed engravings for any number of sporting firearms
. His work has raised millions of dollars in support of waterfowl and wildlife habitat conservation
. He is also a two-time federal duck stamp
contest winner (1974–1975 and 1982–1983) and has designed 36 additional state duck and conservation stamps.
"I have said many times that I wouldn't trade what I do for any other occupation," Maass said. "Wildlife art has not only been a job but has also connected me to hunting, conservation, and many of my closest friends."
Maass's affinity for the outdoors did not come by accident. He was raised in a family of hunters. His late mother, Ora, was a crack shot, and proved it by winning the Minnesota state trap-shooting championship. "That is what got me going," Maass said. "My parents were big hunters. And I always liked to draw. I went from one to the other and started drawing and painting the birds that we hunted."
Ducks have long been at the top of his list. "I used to fish quite a bit, and even did some deep-sea fishing," Maass said. "But I never had the same passion for it. I've hunted pheasant and grouse quite a bit, too, and it was the same thing there. Duck hunting was just so much more ahead of everything else."
Having painted every waterfowl species in North America, Maass has just about done it all. Does he have a favorite species? "My favorite is probably the canvasback because it's such a marvelous bird," Maass said. "But it's hard to discount the mallard
. And bluebills, I probably enjoy painting them as much as anything else. Actually, I love them all."
The wildlife art world, and its legions of fans, are all the better for Maass's talent and unyielding passion for both waterfowl and conservation.