ELYRIA — A painting of two canvasback ducks basking in soft sunlight by Elyria native and nationally known wildlife artist Adam Grimm was the winning image of the 2013 Federal Duck Stamp Contest.
Grimm, who now lives in Burbank, S.D., but once created his artwork from his parents’ Murray Ridge Road home, learned he was this year’s winner Saturday at the Maumee Bay State Park and Conference Center just outside of Toledo during the annual art contest — the only juried art competition sponsored by the federal government.
This is Grimm’s second win at the federal level.
In 1999, Grimm shocked contest veterans when at 21 he became the youngest person to ever to win the federal contest. And, while that win was the crowning achievement of his young career — it was the ammunition he needed to convince his parents that leaving college was the right move — Grimm said this newest win is so much more special.
“This is probably the greatest moment of my entire career — the best day of my life besides my wedding and my kids being born,” he said. “I don’t think I fully appreciated it when I won before, but with everything that has happened this year, this win is magnified.”
April marked one of the highest and lowest moments for the Grimm family. That was when he learned his daughter, Madison, 6, had won the 2013 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest only to have her victory stripped from her within a week. Her $5,000 scholarship was given to another winner.
“She was the youngest person to win the contest by nine years. The next youngest winner was 15, so, of course, they thought there was no way Madison did this herself,” Grimm said. “It devastated her because she worked so hard on that picture and started it because she told my wife she wanted to paint a picture just like daddy.”
The “just like daddy” part led many to wonder if Grimm did more than verbally coach his young daughter, who also chose the canvasback duck as her subject. Grimm maintains he never touched Madison’s painting.
“I taught her about mixing the paints and what angle to hold the brush so she can learn to get better,” he said. “We never in a million years thought she would win. At best, we were hoping for a good placing in her age group on the state level. But to be named best of show in South Dakota and then to win the national contest was not something we expected.”
Grimm said he never won on the junior level, although he did win best of show in Ohio when he was a young teen and even had his piece place high at the federal level. To see his daughter pick up his passion at such a young age makes him beyond proud.
“She has more talent at 6 than I did at that age. I was still doodling Spiderman,” he said. “But it’s fun to see her taking such a strong interest and having a passion for something I hold so near and dear to my heart.”
Grimm said he was able to prove to the judges that his daughter did not violate the rules by using a transfer technique from an unpublished photo he took and Madison’s win was reinstated.
But the damage had been done. Grimm questioned whether he would enter the adult contest, and when he finally did, he was adamant about not attending the finale show.
However, this also was the year a film crew was making a documentary about the contest, and Grimm, as a favorite because of his reputation of producing stunning, life-like paintings, was a main character in the film. The movie’s producers encouraged him to travel back to Ohio — having him in person win or lose was much better than filming a judge making a phone call after the fact.
“I thought I might win, but somehow the judges would quietly decide I shouldn’t win because of everything — like I was blacklisted or something,” Grimm said. “So to win the same year she won the junior and with the same species of fowl is just incredible. And, to have it all on film — from working on my entry to the moment my painting won gives this a surreal feeling.”
Now that Grimm and young Madison are winners, both will have to sit out next year’s contest — Grimm the next two per adult contest rules — but it will not stop either from creating art from a shared inspiration: the wonders of nature.
“Madison is obsessed with nature to put it mildly,” Grimm said. “She likes to raise butterflies and catch lizards and snakes. Nature is such a constant part of our lives.”
Grimm’s painting will be made into the 2014-15 Federal Duck Stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2014. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service produces the stamp, which sells for $15 and raises about $25 million each year to provide funds to conserve and protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System.
“For eight decades, hunters, birders and millions of other people who purchase Federal Duck Stamps have made a direct contribution to wildlife conservation through the protection of wetland habitats,” said Jerome Ford, the service’s assistant director for migratory birds. “Our nation’s birds and other wildlife — and people, too — thank everyone who ‘puts their stamp on conservation’ by buying Duck Stamps.”