column By: Glen Blackwood | September, 20
We left at 5 a.m. Saturday, and Sunday morning found us at a general store in Orr, Minnesota. The store sold groceries, guns and gifts. As the men purchased nonresident licenses, I roamed the shop, soon staring at a ruffed grouse print hung above the Minnetonka moccasin display. It was like nothing I had seen, and I let my father know.
Christmas morning of 1978, my father was doling out presents when he handed me a red-wrapped shirt box. More clothes I assumed, but with a wink he said, “You will enjoy this one.” Ripping the wrapper, I found a copy of A Gallery of Waterfowl and Upland Birds by David Maass and Gene Hill, Peterson Press (1978). On page 15 was the image from the trip, “Ridgeline-Ruffed Grouse.”
Sporting art books have occupied my life since.
Sporting art predates sporting literature by centuries. Petroglyphs discovered in the caves throughout the world document this fact. While the aforementioned title might be one of the most popular printed books in the sporting art genre – and it molded my life – there are others that should be explored.
Most major sporting artists have published books that discuss and exhibit their works. A.B. Frost’s works were first published in book form by P.F. Collier & Son (1904). This black-and-white work displays Frost’s cross section of sporting works including angling, baseball, golf, touring and hunting. Each image is accompanied by the entertaining verse of Wallace Irwin.
This combination of art and lyrical verse becoming the template that others have followed, Eugene V. Connett III did so in publishing the Derrydale book Dogs in the Field by Marguerite Kirmse (1935). Her dog art is accompanied by the words of John Taintor Foote. This trend continues as you will find it in the books by William Schaldach such as Coverts and Casts (1943) and Upland Gunning (1946), both published by A.E. Barnes. Schaldach also collaborated with noted Western big game artist Carl Rungius in Fifty Years with Brush and Rifle for those who enjoy both birds and big game.
While art books seem less important than literary or how-to books in historical discussions, I believe they have important stature, as they both display an accurate timeline of the artists’ works and capture our hunting heritage.
Both The Great American Sporting Prints by Robert Elman, published by Alfred A. Knopf (1972) and The Art of Ogden M. Pleissner by Peter Berg, published by David Godine (1984) are examples of titles that show historically accurate images.
As with all books, the most important aspect is content. Art books allow the viewer to see images that are generally not available for public consumption, such as works that are in private collections, museums or those from before an artist made a name for him or herself. These components give an important glimpse behind the curtain of the artist’s studio.
That first trip and the David Maass image changed how I look at sport. They taught a young boy that days afield are to be savored and not only just in one’s memories but also artistically, both visually and through written story, and when the two are combined, they enhance each other. My Christmas suggestion to you is to ask Santa for a red-wrapped shirt box, containing a sporting art book inside. If you have been a good boy or girl, and he delivers your wish, it will be a memorable Christmas – at least it was for me.