WASHINGTON – When Joseph Michalski was a boy out goose-hunting with his uncles in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, he was always fascinated — not with the sport, but with the federal duck stamps that waterfowl hunters were required to buy.
“I’m not really a hunter,” the Pasadena resident said. “But I used to look at the stamps and thought they were really neat.”
With luck, the next “really neat” stamp could be his design. Michalski, 40, is one of 243 artists — one of nine from Maryland — competing to design the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2000-2001 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp.
The winner will be announced Thursday afternoon at the Department of Interior, after two days of judging. Five judges, including a biologist, inspect entries for anatomical accuracy, artistry and their suitability as a stamp.
This year’s stamp will feature the either the mottled or the black scoter ducks. The winning entry will be engraved on a stamp and sold to hunters, as well as stamp collectors and conservationists, for $15 per stamp, with 98 percent of the proceeds used to buy wetlands for the national Wildlife Refuge System.
“I like when I do art, for it to have a purpose — not just to hang on a wall — and this really can help the environment and creates a lot of money to purchase wetlands,” Michalski said.
There are other reasons to pay the $100 entry fee for the competition. Fran Sweet of Bowie said winning brings fame and the potential of rich royalties from limited-edition sales of the stamp.
“The duck stamp contest is just something I do because it’s just silly not to enter it,” Sweet said. “It’s very lucrative. the contest is worth about $750,000 and is very prestigious.”
Former national winner Wilhelm Goebel agreed that the duck stamp competition “brought a lot of notoriety to me and my work and it opened a lot of doors.”
“Galleries now pay attention to you and selling limited edition prints – it definitely helps,” said Goebel. The Salisbury resident was living in New Jersey when he painted the 1996-1997 stamp.
Goebel, who submitted an oil painting of a black scoter this year, won the 1996-1997 competition with a painting of two surf scoters, with the New Jersey shore and Barnegat lighthouse in the background. More than 1.5 million copies of his stamp were sold.
“I heard about the federal duck stamp contest when I was about 17 years old. It was something most wildlife artists entered — the most prestigious award you can win,” Goebel said.
Part of the challenge, he said, is adapting his work to fit stamp specifications.
“You have to be in a different mindset because painting for stamps is basically doing more of a commercial type of art,” Goebel said. “You have to follow a lot of set guidelines since the stamp will be engraved — you can’t quite get as impressionistic and you have to stay within the barriers set otherwise it won’t make a good stamp. That’s what the judges are really looking for.”
He first entered the competition when he was 18. He placed second in 1990 and won in 1995, after trying for 17 years.
Sweet, also a full-time painter, has placed in the top 20 three times since he started entering the contest in 1985. But he does not expect to do well this year and will not attend Thursday’s award ceremony.
Anyway, Sweet said, he would much rather paint a “more popular duck” like a mallard, because “the scoter is not a good-looking duck at all.”