A stamp of approval

FL native sets record with fifth DNR stamp depiction

It took years of trying, but John House is the first artist to win all five DNR stamp contests. Above is his depiction of a walleye which will be on the 2012 stamp. (Image submitted)

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

A Forest Lake native continues to build his reputation as one of Minnesota’s premier wildlife artists. And by at least one prestigious standard, John House recently became the state’s most decorated.

The 1974 Forest Lake High School graduate in October became the first artist to have his work displayed in each of the five wildlife stamps used by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Fittingly, the avid bird hunter was out chasing ducks on the day of the judging. That task kept his mind off the walleye stamp contest until he returned home and got a call from the DNR.

“I went outside and threw my arms to the sky and thanked God,” House says. “It took four tries for this walleye but finally I had gotten there – the Minnesota Royal Slam was finally mine.”

A perfect fit

House’s 2012 walleye stamp is the crowning achievement of a journey years in the making. He showed great artistic ability as a child, but life did not take him in that direction until the 1980s, when he began carving bird decoys. In time, he turned his skill to two-dimensional efforts in the form of waterfowl paintings. House’s newfound passion was a perfect fit for the DNR’s conservation stamps that are sold to hunters and anglers. In 1985, he entered for the first time the annual contest used to select the depictions of waterfowl, pheasants, wild turkeys and trout or salmon.

House’s painting of a green-winged teal won the 1999 duck stamp contest and wins followed in 2004 (ring-necked pheasant) and 2006 (brown trout). His breakout moment came in January of 2007, when his entry was chosen for the next year’s turkey stamp. The win made House the first artist to have his work depicted on all four stamps.

“It gets tense on contest day, but it’s a thrill when you win and this one was especially sweet,” House says of the turkey stamp. “It had been a long-time goal of mine to win all four of Minnesota’s stamp contests, and finally this ‘Grand Slam’ was mine!”

Forest Lake High School graduate John House has become one of the state’s premier wildlife artists. Here, he shows off his winning DNR stamp depictions. (Photo submitted)

The crown jewel

House was content to put the years of laboring on 6 1/2-by-9-inch creations behind him, but his retirement from the contest lasted only one year. The DNR came out with a walleye stamp in 2008.

“It was like, ‘Ah, drats,’” House says. “I thought, ‘Well, okay. I’ll just quick win the first one and be done.’”

However, he took third, fifth and second place in the contest’s first three years. Meanwhile, two other artists had matched House’s ‘Grand Slam’ feat and were also knocking on the door for walleye stamp glory. It was crunch time, and House left no stone unturned in his preparation for last fall’s entry. Not much of a fisherman himself, the father of four quizzed friends and took to the water so as to learn an authentic walleye environment for his depiction. In addition to buying an underwater camera, House would anchor in shallow water, get out of his boat, stick his head in the water then quickly paint what he remembered.

“If you’re going to be successful in the realistic [subject] market, you have to be familiar with your subject matter,” he said. “Spend some time around it. See it, smell it, feel it, touch it.”

At last, House knew he wanted to portray a walleye zoning in on a shiner minnow. However, he left himself only a week for the actual painting process.

“My wife was quite worried, and my only defense is that for weeks I had been designing the piece in my head – and it looked really good up there!” he says.

He put in some extreme hours that week in late October, but arrived in St. Paul to drop it off a full hour before the submission deadline.

House considers himself “eternally grateful” for winning a fifth stamp, especially due to the subjective nature of judging artwork. He compares that process to ice cream – everyone has their favorite flavor.

Still, if any of his paintings have deserved to win, House says his latest creation is it.

“Technically, this should be my best rendering [because of my experience], but in truth I think it is. This is a real crackerjack of a painting.”

Moving on

Apparently, others think so, too. House has built a following of nature and art enthusiasts who have made collections of his stamp winners. This time, though, he has been surprised by a host of new customers (“walleye-people,” House says) who are unaware of his previous works. Ordering information can be found at www.johnhouseart.com. The prints will be available in early March, when the actual $7 DNR pictorial stamps are made available to the public.

House and his wife, Barbara, live on 80 acres in Melby, MN, an unincorporated community northwest of Alexandria. He often comes back to Forest Lake to visit relatives, including his mother, Joanne, who lives on the couple hundred of acres on Third Lake where House grew up.

Now confident that his stamp days are past, House is back to focusing on projects as they come in. Lately, he has been expanding into portrait work. He enjoys the challenge, but knows nothing will quite match the thrill of winning the DNR stamp contests.

“This state is loaded with great artistic talent, and I have been beaten way more times than I have won,” House says. “But now I can breathe a little again, unless and until the DNR invents another one. I hope they don’t!”