A Brush with Greatness

David Maass captures his fourth DU Artist of the Year honor
By Gary Koehler



Minnesota native David Maass drew inspiration for his winning painting, Pitching into Cypress, from a personal hunting trip to Arkansas.
A wildlife painter by trade and a duck hunter at heart, David Maass has made a waterfowl-hunting pilgrimage to Manitoba's Delta Marsh during each of the past 35 years. The man has seen plenty of ducks, but in his eyes the good old days might be right now. 

This past October, Maass spent a week gunning divers on this fabled Canadian marsh and returned to his native Minnesota home filled with awe. "People talk about the good old days—and yes, many of them were good," Maass said while recounting his trip. "But this year we had canvasbacks and bluebills in numbers that were unbelievable. It was probably as good as I've ever seen it up there. Your guys are doing something right."

Maass has done plenty right in a heralded artistic career spanning more than 50 years. Last fall, he was named the 2013 Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year. His winning painting, Pitching into Cypress, which features mallards arriving at a cypress flat, ranks as yet another classic in a portfolio abundant with honors.

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. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Windy Water By Richard Clifton
Yes, there may be waves, but these regal canvasbacks look very much at ease. The King of Ducks is well represented in this intimate big-water gathering. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

All Hands on Deck By Rosemary Millette
Few duck hunters will be able to resist this trio of Lab puppies. Alert and inquisitive, these little hunters have a bright future. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Good Morning By John P. Cowan
This ranks as a wish-I-were-there moment. Look at that sky, to say nothing of the ducks on the move. This print is a special commemorative edition featuring an artist signature stamp. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Sweet Dreams By Ralph McDonald
The Greenwing series marches on, as popular as ever. Take youngsters hunting and their dreams just may begin to center on the outdoors. Timber mallards are on this lad's mind.

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Work'n the Sheetwater By Richard Clifton
Canada geese preparing for a landing—absolutely majestic. These frequent flyers may be migrators that have been on the wing all night. Coming to a cornfield near you. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Faithful By Adam Grimm
The lone spent shell says the gunner has shot well. And his companion is glad for the work. May the remainder of the morning continue to be bountiful. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Setting Up for Sunrise By Brett Smith
Looks like the Gulf Coast, right? But this locale could be any number of hunting venues. The decoys will soon be set. And the morning holds great promise. 

DUCKS UNLIMITED'S NATIONAL ART PACKAGE

Contributing Artists

Whitetail Creek By Bruce Miller
Judging by his size, this noble buck could teach Survival 101. Now you see him, soon you won't. He likely will quickly turn and head for the underbrush, doe right behind. 


DU's 2013 Event Package Features a Lot More than Art 
Those who have attended a Ducks Unlimited fundraising event know that this is the place to be for folks seeking high-quality wildlife artwork. Prints from the best of the best wildlife artists have been a DU staple for more than 35 years. But there are many other sporting-themed collectibles at just about every DU gathering. The list may include decoys, signs, lamps, sculptures, clocks, watches, knives, and much more. And don't forget the firearms. This year's lineup will include a Fausti over/under—DU's 2013 Gun of the Year—and a wide selection of additional firearms. Check out a DU event in your area. And by all means bring a friend.