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All-Stars of Wildlife Art

From the earliest days of Ducks Unlimited, the nation's finest wildlife artists have supported conservation with their work
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By Gary Koehler

Throughout its storied history, Ducks Unlimited has received important cooperation and support from the wildlife art community. This year, as the organization marks its 75th Anniversary, DU will showcase an all-star cast of premier artists, whose works will be available at fundraising events nationwide. 

But first, perhaps a bit of history is in order. At least one notable artist lent a helping hand to the wetlands and waterfowl conservation cause before DU was even incorporated.

That would be Roland H. Clark, who in 1936 illustrated a 32-page booklet for the More Game Birds in America Foundation. This book was simply titled Ducks Unlimited, and laid out More Game Birds' new program to aid North America's waterfowl. The next year, Clark produced the first DU membership certificate, an etching of pintails. He also provided illustrations for the DU quarterly, forerunner of Ducks Unlimited magazine, during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and contributed a second certificate in 1942.

But Clark was hardly alone in his support of DU's conservation programs. Frank Benson and Richard Bishop, who along with Clark are considered the finest waterfowl etchers of all time, also became active DU committee members and contributing artists.

Bishop featured scaup on the 1938 DU certificate, and later illustrated the classic book Prairie Wings, written by Edgar Monsanto Queeny and published in 1947. Bishop also designed several pins used as incentives for the DU Sponsor program.

Benson designed the masthead of the DU quarterly in 1937. This etching, featuring canvasbacks, mallards, and other ducks crowded across a five-column-wide marsh, first appeared in the inaugural April 1938 issue and ran continually for more than 25 years. His bird illustrations were used regularly in this publication. Benson also produced the 1943 DU certificate. 

The annual production of the DU certificate was the precursor of DU's Artist of the Year program. Featured artwork was printed each year and presented as a premium to those who renewed their DU membership. Contributing artists included the likes of such noted masters as Francis Lee Jaques, Lynn Bogue Hunt, and Ogden Pleissner.

DU's first art print, Green-Winged Teal, was painted by James Lockhart in 1971. DU's Artist of the Year program was launched in 1972. The initial winner was Ohio artist John Ruthven, whose Oak Grove Pintails rendering was printed on rare English Whatman paper—the same type of paper used more than 100 years earlier by John James Audubon.

Since the early days, the DU Artist of the Year program has featured the works of the best of the best in the wildlife art world. The roster includes several federal duck stamp winners and many other high-profile wildlife artists. 

This year, Ducks Unlimited is proud to offer the works of an all-star lineup of our most popular contemporary waterfowl artists. DU's anniversary art package features five prints and two canvases. Contributing artists include Jim Killen, Art LaMay, David Maass, Harold Roe, Phillip Crowe, Terry Redlin, and Ralph McDonald.

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