Pucks and Ducks

As anyone who has logged on to YouTube or watched one of the latest flavor-of-the-month television “talent” shows can attest, the world is bursting these days with talent in the finger-quote sense.

It should be comforting to note, then, that amid all the digital and visual acts passing themselves off as talent, there are still traditional artists sending glorious shards of light through the cloud of electronic noise.

In the case of the three Minnesota-based Hautman brothers, while the final form of their expression may itself be a little obscure, a true talent pours into their studio easels and leaps from the canvases. Relatively unknown outside a few circles, the Hautmans are among this country’s preeminent wildlife artists.

If you’ve heard of the Hautman brothers, you likely know there’s even more to the story. If not, you probably weren’t even aware of this country’s state and federal duck stamp contests.

It is within this circle that the Hautmans spin their magic on 7-inch by 10-inch canvases. (The federal winners are reproduced as a 2-inch x 2.5-inch stamp, which serves as the stamp all waterfowl hunters 16 years of age or older must purchase each year.)

The biggie is the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. That’s the Stanley Cup of the duck stamp world, and the Hautman name is all over it. Jim became the youngest winner and his art ran on the 1990-91 seasonal stamp. Older brother Joe followed with the 1992-93 stamp. Jim won again for the 1995-96 stamp before Bob’s work ran in 1997-98. In all, the brothers have won the federal contest eight times, including Joe’s most recent win this past October.

Creating serene, natural scenes of ducks and pheasants and elk and deer among the grass and marsh and snow and lakes, striking in their detail and captivating in their settings, may not crack the lowest-common-denominator hit list, but it is a living.

For 43-year-old Jim and 48-year-old Bob, painting also allows them to further appreciate and pursue, often, another common passion: hockey.

Art is a natural labor of love – not to mention the reason their pieces have taken dozens of prizes and have been displayed in the Oval Office and at the Smithsonian — but hockey gives them something they won’t find anywhere else. In many ways, their work and their play are the perfect compleiments.

“Something about how they’re so different, I think, is why I enjoy hockey so much,” says Jim, not far removed from a summer in which he skated three or four times a week. “It’s just completely different mentally from what I normally do.”

Bob had suggested Jim fill the winter days after his early graduation from high school by playing hockey. With a few exceptions here and there, including Bob’s recent break after moving further from the abundance of rinks in the Twin Cities, the pair has played at least a couple times a week, year-round, since the early 1980s.

“No matter what, when I go to hockey, I can be thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not motivated,’ ” says Bob. “Then I get there, I’m in the locker room ... I start lacing up my skates and I can’t wait. I get really excited to play every time I go to the rink. That’s the way it’s always been.”

Like many adult players, especially those who are less concerned by their stats on the league Web site than they are in enjoying a skate, rinks have become a place of refuge from the day’s events for the Hautmans.

“Art, for me, it’s not like I just sit down with a big smile on my face and turn something out,” says Jim. “It is a struggle. That’s what’s so fun for me about hockey.”

Jim enjoys the movement, reaction and immediacy of the game, and Bob, too, relishes the camaraderie and change of pace. Whereas their full-time art commitment requires sitting in one place, concentrating for long periods of time and making lasting decisions, their relationship with hockey is very different.

“It’s the opposite [of art]. You just get out there,” says Bob, who, like his brother, can shift from Minnesota modest about their painting to a laid-back animation when the subject is hockey. “You go from all focused, to skating around free and shooting the puck. It’s a great, great break, a perfect break, from painting.”

Jim, Bob and Joe, now 50, also have two brothers and two sisters, and they grew up with enough exposure to wildlife, conservation and art that, looking back, it seems natural. They also grew up in the same neighborhood as filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, who inserted a Hautman brothers duck stamp reference into the movie “Fargo.”

Perhaps not silver screen in quality yet, Jim and Bob’s hockey experiences are an ongoing passion project.

“I think we’re about the same, just a couple guys skating around trying to figure it out,” Jim says.

Talk about figuring it out. The Hautman brothers have found a way to couple two very different endeavors, one artistic and one athletic, in a way that makes each a more rewarding experience than they might be on their own.

That’s one kind of subtle, meaningful talent you won’t find on YouTube. J

Issue: 
2007-12

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