Grantsburg’s Nelson takes Best of Show in Junior Duck Stamp Contest

Associate Editor

Grantsburg, Wis. A Wisconsin girl from the small town of
Grantsburg has joined the ranks of the nation’s most promising
wildlife artists after her painting of two ring-necked ducks took
top honors in the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest.

Kerissa Nelson, 17, a senior at Grantsburg High School, was
informed in early May that her painting, “Ringneck Rendezvous,”
which had already garnered Best of Show in Wisconsin, had been
named the same in the national competition, which included Best of
Show entries from each of 50 states and U.S. Territories.

Though pleased with her painting, the win was a surprise for
Nelson.

“I looked at the rest of the Best of Shows and they were
awesome,” she said.

It was Nelson’s second entry in the junior duck stamp
competition. Last year, her mallard painting finished first in the
state contest, the equivalent of runner-up. This year, she tried
something a bit out of the ordinary.

“I chose ringnecks because they’re unique,” she said. “I figured
there wouldn’t be any other ones. You see tons of mallards and wood
ducks, but when (judges) see ringnecks, it catches their
attention.”

Besides using photographs of ringnecks for reference, Nelson got
a first-hand look at numerous ringnecks in North Dakota last fall
during a hunt. That was an even better tool for gaining intimate
knowledge of the bird, she said.

“We shot mostly ringnecks, and I had to help clean all of them,”
she said. It was the first ringneck painting to win the contest,
which began in 1993.

Duck hunting is just one of Nelson’s passions. She also pursues
deer and turkeys with parents Kerri and Tony, and sister Tera and
brother Alex. She hopes to hunt bear in the near future, and has
shot trap for a number of years.

Nelson also has past experience viewing wildlife up close. Her
father is a taxidermist in the Grantsburg area.

The coach

Nelson credits much of her success and the fact that she was
even in the competition to Grantsburg High School art teacher Bruce
Teigen.

Teigen, who’s also president of the local Crex Meadows Chapter
of Ducks Unlimited, said he’s watched Nelson’s artistic ability
grow since about seventh grade.

“He’s helped me with everything. He’s the reason I was in the
contest,” Nelson said.

When she was a sophomore Nelson painted a rose-breasted grosbeak
at the direction of Teigen. It caught his attention.

“I looked at it and said, Keets, we need to get you into the
duck stamp contest,’ ” he said.

Teigen, an art teacher for more than 30 years, the past 12 at
Grantsburg, also coached Nelson through the rough spots as she
progressed with the ringneck painting, which she said took about
five months to complete.

“She got frustrated with things, like all artists do,” he said.
“But the one thing I explained before we started was that if
there’s something you don’t like, prime’ over it and start over
again.”

Teigen said he knew the painting had a chance to make the big
time.

“The details, the way she depicted the ducks was just
wonderful,” he said. “Everything was just right with the birds as
far as I could tell.”

Apparently, a distinguished group of judges agreed. Included on
that list were Greg Butcher, a prominent ornithologist who’s
director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society;
last year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest winner, Mark Anderson, of
Sioux Falls, S.D. (the image will be on the 2005-06 federal duck
stamp); and waterfowl carver Rich Smoker, who judged the 2004
federal contest.

Junior duck stamp proceeds

The winning junior duck stamp will be available for sale
following a First Day of Sales Ceremony in Washington, D.C., in
late June, an event that will be attended by Nelson, her parents,
and Teigen. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes the $5 stamp
available to stamp collectors and conservationists.

Proceeds are used primarily for environmental education and
awards for the students and schools involved, said Robert Williams,
USFWS manager of stamp development and marketing. Williams called
Nelson’s painting “a beautiful piece of work.” He said past junior
winners have participated in the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, but to
this point, had not won.

“There’s a very good chance it could happen, though,” he
said.

The future

Nelson said she isn’t sure where art will lead her, but she
understands making a living as an artist can be a challenge.

“I don’t want to live in a cardboard box,” she said with a
smile.

For now, that means she’ll use the $5,000 she was awarded for
winning Best of Show for her education at the College of St.
Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., where she’ll major in health
information management. She’ll also pursue an art minor.

“I don’t want to give (art) up; I want to keep doing it,” she
said. “At college, I’ll still be doing it.”

Besides the excitement of winning the contest, Nelson has been
the subject of much local media attention, along with contacts from
larger outlets. She couldn’t escape the limelight even during a
Sunday trip to Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in
Grantsburg.

“The priest said he was going to put something in the Catholic
Herald,” she said, smiling again.

For information on purchasing the stamp, call (800) 782-6724 or
visit www.duckstamp.com.

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