A special evening celebrating conservation, art, family
By Ron and Ronny Hustvedt
It was a big weekend in the waterfowling world, especially in Minnesota. In addition to it being the state waterfowler opener, a Minnesota artist once again won the national duck stamp contest.
Joe Hautman’s painting of three tundra swans flying over a wetland emerged victorious after two days of judging, earning a sixth duck stamp victory and putting him in a tie for the most duck stamps by any artist. He now shares the record with his brother, Jim Hautman, who won his sixth contest last year with a painting of redheads in high waves.
Hautman’s acrylic painting will be made into the 2023-2024 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2023. Duck Stamps sell for $25 and each year raise approximately $40 million in sales that support critical conservation to protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of citizens.
The announcement that Joe Hautman won this year’s contest came around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 via an online stream from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters in Falls Church, Va.
So it was rather surreal, when a few hours later, your humble authors of this piece received a text message inviting us to Joe Hautman’s house in Plymouth to join in a small celebratory gathering.
We arrived on time and were greeted at the door by Joe. He informed us that a documentary Ronny had made last year for Minnesota History Day was played numerous times during the livestream event. “A lot of people got to learn about the history of the duck stamp through your video,” Joe said.
Ronny’s documentary was one of two from Minnesota to advance to the National History Day contest where he earned an honorable mention, placing among the top 20 in the country. At the time, he was a 7th grade student at Salk STEM Middle School in Elk River, Minn. Presently, he is a ninth grader at Blaine High School.
History Day is a project where students select a historical topic interesting to them and research, write, and create a final project. Ronny conducted extensive research from dozens of sources, wrote a 10-minute documentary script and then gathered images, filmed video, and recorded interviews for his final presentation. You can view his nationally awarded documentary here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixlGwCe6JOE
Once past the entryway, we ventured into the kitchen where a large number of the Hautman family gathered. We met so many Hautmans, we don’t remember all the names. Among the crowd, we struck up a good conversation with Pete Hautman, an acclaimed author of books for middle school aged audiences. We also chatted with Chris Knutson, owner of Art Barbarians Wildlife Art Gallery in Rogers, Minn., and long-time friend of the Hautman family.
One of the most special moments of the evening came when Jim Hautman arrived and we got to see him compliment and joke with his brother for tying him as the winningest duck stamp artist in history. Upon meeting Ronny, Jim Hautman told him, “Your video is going to be used for many years to come. It’s so good.”
A group of seven guys, including Knutson, Jim, Joe, Ronny and myself spent most of the night hanging out in Joe’s studio trading stories about the outdoors. We dug through Joe’s other creations, including projects he’s been working on and digital art he’s created featuring optical illusions. Many of those are published in his name under the nom de guerre (pseudonym) Kaia Nao.
Another poignant moment of the evening came when Ronny got to look at Joe Hautman’s father’s duck stamp collection going back to the first years of the stamp. They clearly featured his father’s signature as an avid waterfowler and represented an intersection of family, art, and conservation – something central to the events of the evening. We were extremely grateful to have our stories intersect on that special evening.
It reminded Ronny and I that we needed to head home to prepare for our own waterfowling outing on Sunday morning.
More from USFWS
“The Duck Stamp Contest is one of my very favorite events every year!” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. “I am always impressed with the caliber of the art submitted, and each and every entry reminds us of the beauty of the natural world the Duck Stamp is designed to protect. I encourage everyone to buy a Duck Stamp as it makes a real impact in conserving wetlands habitats for waterfowl and many other wildlife species.”
Since it was first established in 1934, sales of the Federal Duck Stamp to hunters, bird watchers, outdoor enthusiasts, and collectors have raised more than $1.1 billion to conserve over 6 million acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife and provide countless opportunities for wildlife-oriented recreation on our public lands.
Waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase and carry the current Federal Duck Stamp. Many non-hunters, including birdwatchers, conservationists, stamp collectors, and others also purchase the stamp in support of habitat conservation. Additionally, a current Federal Duck Stamp can be used for free admission to any national wildlife refuge that charges an entry fee.
In addition to Joseph Hautman, Frank Mittelstadt of Beaver Dam, Wis., placed second with his acrylic painting of tundra swans, and Robert Hautman of Delano, Minn., took third place with his acrylic painting of an American wigeon.