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Duck Stamp artwork to be featured at Baraboo museum

September 18, 2016

Duck hunters are legally required to purchase and sign only one federal stamp before they can take to the fields.

So why do many hunters purchase an extra copy, which they save instead of sign? The answer to that question should become clear to those who visit the Flyways Waterfowl Museum in Baraboo later this month.

On weekends from Saturfday to Oct. 2, the museum, located south of the city along State Highway 159, will host a free exhibit featuring the finalists from last year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

Artists nationwide submit entries into the annual competition, and a panel of judges selects the winning piece, which is then featured on the face of the following year’s federal duck stamp.

Flyways Waterfowl Museum Director Nichol Swenson said the artwork highlights the beauty and importance of conservation. The museum also features prints of winning federal entries from prior years, as well as youth contest entries.

“People come in and say ‘I can’t believe a kid did that,’” Swenson said of some of the paintings. “Habitat conservation is really one of the most critical issues we’re facing today.”

The federal art exhibit that will make a stop in Baraboo later this week features finalists from the competition that took place in 2015, and is unique in the history of the annual competition. That’s because the top three finalists were brothers who have collectively won 11 of the federal contests, which started in 1949.

The first federal duck stamp was designed by Jay N. “Ding” Darling in 1934. Sales in that year generated $635,000 for habitat conservation and restoring wetlands.

“And back in that day, they were only a dollar,” said Craig Swenson, the museum’s cofounder. These days he buys two of the $25 federal stamps. He signs one copy for hunting, and saves another for his collection.

Duck stamp program earnings peaked at $26 million in 2000, and the art contest has continued to grow in popularity. A documentary about the contest premiered Wednesday on the Animal Planet cable television station.

“The Million Dollar Duck” highlights the unique contestants who participate each year, and explores the history and ongoing challenges that the federal program faces.

This year’s duck stamp contest took place earlier this month at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. The winner was James Hautman, of Chaska, Minnesota., one of the famous brothers known for dominating the competition. His acrylic painting of Canada geese will be featured on next year’s federal Duck Stamp.

“Sauk County is so rich in its conservation heritage and also has a very vibrant arts culture, so we feel that bringing the exhibit to Flyways Waterfowl Museum is a beautiful fit with our county’s identity,” Nichol Swenson said, adding that contributions from the Greater Sauk County Community Foundation and Don-Rick Insurance helped bring the exhibit to Baraboo.

Of every dollar generated by stamp sales, 98 cents helps purchase or lease wetland habitat for national wildlife refuges and wetland management districts. Wisconsin has nine of them.

The $800 million raised since the program began has helped protect more than 5.7 million acres of habitat across the country to conserve fish and wildlife resources.

Nichol Swenson also noted that the stamps, which become available at post offices each July, are not only for hunters. They provide free admission to any wildlife refuge that charges an entrance fee.