Some of the nation’s most impressive waterfowl art is created in a single, sunny studio room from a home in Biddeford. There, among the cluttered desks and tables, three women of the Lowell family—mom, Rebekah, and daughters Elektrah, 14, and Ariah, 12—spend their evenings drawing and painting images of nature from their backyard and neighborhood. It’s a pastime that produces results: Ariah Lowell’s oil painting of a Harlequin Duck (pictured above) recently won Best in Show in the Maine Junior Duck Stamp Competition and third place overall in the National Junior Duck Stamp Program.
Run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Junior Duck Stamp program is an art contest that encourages students to explore their natural world and conservation ideals to produce artwork featuring resident ducks or geese. It is associated with the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, also run by USFWS, which seeks to illustrate stamps required for purchase by waterfowl hunters. States gather and judge entries for each contest and send the winners on for national judging.
Ariah’s mother, Rebekah has a long history of Duck Stamp success, including four wins and one second-place showing in Maine’s Duck Stamp contest. Rebekah “held a crayon before she could walk,” she says, and was inspired to paint waterfowl by her father, a sportsman. She in turn has shared her love of nature with her daughters, encouraging them to keep illustrated nature journals and taking them on trips to see birds all around southern Maine.
It was during one of those trips to Perkin’s Cove in Ogunquit that Ariah spotted the Harlequin Duck she’d eventually turn into her winning entry. She was struck by the funny way the duck swam, she said, which reminded her of the waddle of her backyard chickens. She snapped a photo of the male bird and got to work creating her painting.
Working on canvas, Ariah dared to try some special techniques for her painting, handed down from her mom. The Harlequin was her first-ever oil painting, which requires longer drying times between different colors and layers. She also used a grid technique, copying her reference photograph over to the canvas in small chunks rather than in her traditional freehand, a technique she says resulted in better attention to detail and a cleaner process.
The results speak for themselves. Ariah’s Harlequin Duck won her first place in Maine’s 4 – 6 Grade category and Best in Show overall. Her sister Elektrah won first place in the 7 – 9 Grade category for her painting of a female Common Eider. Mom, of course, was beaming with pride over both accomplishments and expressed her fondness for this unique art competition, where “the point isn’t just to make a painting, but to get people to think about birds and species.” Ariah, in fact, is already thinking about what species she’s going to paint for next year’s contest and has a likely candidate in mind, though you’ll just have to see for yourself next year when the Lowells add another chapter to their storied run of Maine waterfowl art.
For more about the Maine Junior Duck Stamp program and to see a gallery of all the winning art, visit maineaudubon.org/juniorduck.