Drama worthy of March Madness took place on March 16, 2023, when a panel of five judges gathered at Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm Audubon Center to view and evaluate hundreds of depictions of ducks, all created by Maine students as part of the Maine Junior Duck Stamp program.
As the entries were judged first in four age groups and then in the coveted Best in Show category, decisions got harder and harder and it was down to a tie-breaker between Margaret Lynch, 14, from Eliot and Cormac Hluska, 16, from Freeport.
In the end, Lynch’s oil painting (shown above) of a Canada Goose, titled “Autumn Leaving,” edged out Hluska’s colored pencil and gel pen depiction of a Bufflehead, titled “Are ducks real?”. Both were first-place winners in their age categories. Lynch’s Best in Show painting will go on to represent Maine in the national competition against all other Best in Show pieces from 50 states, Washington, D.C. and two U.S. Territories.
The federal Junior Duck Stamp program, run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, encourages students to explore their natural world, invites them to investigate biology and wildlife management principles, and challenges them to express and share what they have learned with others through an art contest. This “conservation through the arts” program uses the winning artwork as the basis for the $5 Junior Duck Stamp.
Entries this year came in from all corners of Maine, from Presque Isle to Eliot.
As always, homeschooled students were represented well in the winners’ circles, as were students, including Hluska, taught by Freeport High School art teacher Kimberly Medsker-Mehalic. All the judges acknowledged the crucial role teachers played in the high level of art displayed in the entries.
Tom Wall, Ranger/Visitor Services Manager at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, US Fish and Wildlife Service, coordinates the Maine Junior Duck Stamp program along with Maine Audubon educator Linda Woodard. “There were about 650 entries, all of very good quality,” said Wall, “and you can see that there was intense instruction in the classroom.”
For each of the four age group categories (grades K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12), the judges chose three First Place winners, three Second Place winners, three Third Place winners, and Honorable Mentions. As Wall explained, art is judged on the accuracy of the bird’s depiction, the habitat, and how well the art will translate onto a small stamp. Click here for an online gallery of all the winning artwork and a full list of winners and honorable mentions.
Judges for this year’s entries were Maine Audubon Advocacy and Outreach Manager Nick Lund, Maine artists Michael Boardman and Bevin Holmberg, Scott Lindsay, wildlife biologist with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Rob Speirs, a retired duck hunter and hobbyist painter.
Scott Lindsay commented on the role teachers play in this program, saying, “This program teaches young people to be observant of nature and to watch nature outside, and this is a great reminder of the importance of art education. A lot of kids have talents that can only be revealed when a teacher taps into it. Kids have different aptitudes and the quietest kid might have a talent just waiting to be expressed.”
Rob Speirs echoed the thoughts of all the judges, saying, “I’m amazed at the talent exhibited here. The artists did such a good job of capturing both the bird and the habitat.”
Maine artist Bevin Holmberg, who has been a Junior Duck Stamp judge for three years, said, “I look forward each year to see the creative work of Maine’s students. I am inspired and encouraged by the time and thought each artist dedicates to their duck stamp entry. Not only are they creating beautiful artwork, but their knowledge leads to appreciation, which leads to conservation. It gives me great hope for the next generation.”
Wall also thanked volunteers Carol Croteau, Lisa Stephens, Turk Duddy, and Joanne Bartlett, who helped the judging process run smoothly.