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Director's Corner

Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.

Duck Stamps: A Wonderful Tradition Like No Other

I wasn’t able to attend the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest this year, so I am turning over my blog today to Deputy Director Rowan Gould to fill us in:

Family traditions.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, we all have them.  In the Service family, one of our favorite traditions is the annual Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. 

I’ve just returned from the 2012 Duck Stamp Contest in Ogden, Utah.  If you’ve never heard of the Duck Stamp or the contest, let me tell you about this beloved – and unique – annual event. 

Duck Stamp winner

Image of the 2012 Federal Duck Stamp winner Robert Steiner, an artist from San Francisco, California. Credit: Robert Steiner

 The Federal Duck Stamp is a part of the Service’s heritage and probably one of the most successful conservation efforts this country has seen.  Since 1934, when J.N. “Ding” Darling sketched the design for the first Duck Stamp, sales of the stamp to hunters, collectors and outdoor enthusiasts have raised more than $850 million to acquire wetlands habitat for ducks, geese, and a host of other wildlife.

In the early days, the Service commissioned artists to design each year’s Duck Stamp.  In 1949, any interested artist was allowed to submit an entry for consideration, and a tradition was born.  The Duck Stamp Contest has the distinction of being the only juried art competition sponsored by the federal government. 

All the stamps are really pieces of art  -- from the almost currency-like quality in the old days to the complex, realistic composition you see today.  I should know, because I have them all!

One of the great things about the contest is that everyone who enters will have their art seen by the five judges.  There are no qualifying rounds.  Judges don’t know who painted any entry, so each is judged on its own merits.  How democratic is that?

Of course, this means the judges may look at hundreds of pieces of art (192 this year), all while seated on a stage in front of hundreds of spectators and hundreds more online viewers, many of whom keep score on score sheets.  And these folks take their job seriously.  I know it is difficult because the quality of all entries is so high.

Judges examined each entry carefully, sometimes using a lens called a “reduction glass.”  This is exactly what it sounds like – it reduces the size of the art to the size of the stamp, about 1 inch by 1 ¾ inch.  As a life-long Duck Stamp collector, I can tell you that a beautiful painting may not make a picture-perfect stamp.

In the initial round, the judges narrowed the field by voting each piece “in” or “out.”  If three out of five judges voted a piece “in,” it advanced to the next round.

The next day, things got harder.  Now judges were looking at the crème de la crème of the entries.  After several rounds of scoring, our judges selected a winner.

I think Robert Steiner's painting of a common goldeneye is going to look great on next year’s Federal Duck Stamp.  You can see it on the Federal Duck Stamp website and buy it when it debuts next June.

We’re already looking forward to next year’s Duck Stamp Contest.


It was an honor to participate. The staff do such a professional job...and the family tradition of this is critical to our conservation effort. I am really happy to be part of your family. Thank you for including me.
# Posted By Christine Thomas | 10/1/12 9:58 AM

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