Synopses & Reviews
The Wild Duck Chase
takes readers into the peculiar world of competitive duck painting as it played out during the 2010 Federal Duck Stamp Contest — the only juried art competition run by the U.S. government. Since 1934, the duck stamp, which is bought annually by hunters to certify their hunting license, has generated more than $750 million, and 98 cents of each collected dollar has been used to help purchase or lease 5.3 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the U.S. — the core of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
As Martin J. Smith chronicles in his revealing narrative, within the microcosm of the duck stamp contest are intense ideological and cultural clashes between the mostly rural hunters who buy the stamps and the mostly suburban and urban birders and conservationists who decry the hunting of waterfowl. At issue is preserving the habitat of ducks and other waterfowl for all to enjoy: If the number of hunters continues to decrease — and unless nature lovers support the duck stamp program — this landmark conservation effort faces possible extinction. The competition also fuels dynamic tensions between competitors and judges, and among the invariably ambitious, sometimes obsessive, and often eccentric artists — including Minnesota's three fabled Hautman brothers, the "New York Yankees" of competitive duck painting. Martin Smith takes readers down an arcane and uniquely American rabbit hole into a wonderland of talent, ego, art, controversy, scandal, big money, and migratory waterfowl.
"Smith, editor-in-chief of Orange Coast magazine, serves as the 'fly on the wall' during the highly competitive 2010 Federal Duck Stamp Contest in his new book, tracing its origins and its current popularity. The contest, originating with Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1934 wildlife preservation law in the Great Depression, provides for 'the sale of an obscure revenue stamp' bought by hunters and stamp collectors, generating more than million in funds, with 98 cents of each dollar going to buy millions of acres of U.S. waterfowl habitat since its inception. With a low-key writing style supported by fine research, Smith takes the readers behind the scenes as five judges weigh the artistic and commercial quality of the 235 submissions in the only juried contest administered by the U.S. government. The Hautman brothers, Jim, Joe, and Bob, are the most fascinating of the artistic competitors, but the author paints many of the participants in a lively, entertaining manner while the contest runs its hectic course. Smith's compelling story of a largely forgotten federal program will cast some timely light on the ongoing clash between rural hunters and urban conservationists on preserving the habitat of waterfowl. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Well-written, insightful, and just plain fun to read." David Allen Sibley, author of the Sibley Guides to Birds and Trees
"Martin Smith investigates a little-known federal program and finds it brimming with fun characters, a quirky culture, and valuable lessons for anyone who wants government to actually work." Mark Obmascik, author of The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession
"When it comes to fascinating, quirky characters and their alternate-universe stories, Martin Smith is the master. His tale of the noble and obscure federal duck stamp, and the men who love it just a bit too much, is a delight to read." Edward Humes, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author
"The Wild Duck Chase explores an arcane art competition and discovers beauty, obsession, and a host of vibrant characters (and birds). Smith's chronicle of this year-long quest to depict nature is endearing, poignant, and lots of fun." Melissa Milgrom, author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy
"An eye-opening and thought-provoking glimpse into the downright wonderful world of duck stamp competition." Richard Louv, author of The Nature Principle and Last Child in the Woods
About the Author
Martin J. Smith is editor in chief of the monthly Orange Coast magazine and a former senior editor of the Los Angeles Times magazine. He is author of three crime novels, and his nonfiction books include Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America and Poplorica (both with co-author Patrick J. Kiger). Smith lives in Southern California.