Self-taught wildlife artist Richard Clifton captured the magical glow of light from a low sun in his acrylic painting of a single lesser scaup drake that won the 2020 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. That glow lights the duck’s plumage, reflects on the swell and ripples of the water the duck rides, and pops color and contrast on the reeds and lost lanyard of wooden duck calls that frame the composition.
Clifton’s winning entry will become the 2021-’22 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp—the duck stamp all waterfowl hunters must carry—which will go on sale in late June. The $25 stamp, also collected by philatelists, birders and non-hunting conservationists, raises about $40 million a year for the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, most of which is used to support the acquisition of critical habitat for the country’s National Wildlife Refuge System. Since its inception, in 1934, amidst the shocking habitat losses of the Dust Bowl years, the duck-stamp program has raised more than $1 billion and funded the purchase of nearly 6 million acres of habitat in more than 300 national wildlife refuges.
This is the second time Clifton has won the coveted Federal Duck Stamp contest; the first was in 2006. His works have been featured on 53 state-issued duck stamps and the 1996 Australian Duck Stamp, and he has been named Artist of the Year three times by Ducks Unlimited.
The lanyard of duck calls in Clifton’s painting may look like a random choice for context, but it isn’t. In a “permanent” rule change initiated for 2020’s contest, the US Fish and Wildlife Service required that each entry include a waterfowl hunting scene or accessory—an homage to the country’s waterfowling heritage and the hunters who have funded the vast majority of habitat conservation that has been made possible through duck stamp sales.
Not new for 2020 was that artists named Hautman won two of the three top spots in the contest. Jim Hautman took second place with his painting of lesser scaup flying in a dark autumn sky, and Joe Hautman took third with his rendition of lesser scaup flying over whitecapped water. Along with their brother Robert, the Hautmans have won the annual contest 13 times since 1990.
For more information on the 2021-’22 duck stamp, visit the USF&WS website: fws.gov.