August 31, 2021

Local Talent: Fowl play

1.8 min read| Published On: August 31st, 2021|

By James Combs

Local Talent: Fowl play

1.8 min read| Published On: August 31st, 2021|

When it comes to painting, one local artist has some serious game.

Photo: Nicole Hamel

Actors have the Oscars. 

Musicians have the Grammys. 

Wildlife artists have the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. John Harris has created his own duck dynasty. 

Since the 1980s, John, a painter who lives on an 11-acre property south of Mascotte, has been a regular participant in the competition, the only art contest sponsored by the federal government. He also competes in state-sponsored duck stamp competitions. 

John is a three-time winner in the Florida Duck Stamp Contest, a two-time winner in both California and Louisiana, and won Oklahoma’s contest two years ago. In 1998, he finished second in the Federal Duck Stamp Contest. Each victory is another feather in his cap. 

“I love these contests because of the high caliber of competition,” says John, a member of the Society of Animal Artists. “It’s an opportunity to test my talent against the best artists in the country.” 

The competition exists because waterfowl hunters are required to purchase a federal duck stamp and state duck stamp as part of their annual licensing requirement. Entries must consist of a two-dimensional design and may be in any media except photography or computer-generated art. 

Though John and other artists receive no compensation for their work, they have the satisfaction of knowing their small stamps make big impacts. Millions of dollars are generated in sales to restore and preserve waterfowl habitat. 

“I love getting out in the wild and watching birds fly because it’s awe-inspiring,” John says. “I’m witnessing God’s creation.”

Art has always been a big part of John’s life. He painted in high school as a hobby and later earned a degree in ceramics from the University of Florida. In the mid-1980s, he became intrigued by wildlife art after seeing two paintings that appeared in an issue of Florida Wildlife Magazine. The front cover featured a turkey painted by artist Bob Binks and the back cover showcased a canvasback duck in flight by artist Robert Steiner. 

“I became inspired when I saw that,” he says. “Several years later I started entering duck stamp contests. By about the fourth year I was finishing ahead of my idols. That motivated me to keep improving.”

In addition to duck stamp competitions, John also paints several wildlife portraits each year. He doesn’t have to look very far for inspiration. His property is home to sandhill cranes, owls, ducks, turkey, deer, foxes, and bobcats. 

“I usually spend between 50 to 60 hours on each one,” he says. “I want the viewer to feel the same emotional response I feel. I try to make each one real and beautiful.” 

One Comment

  1. Avatar
    Leanne Brubaker September 13, 2021 at 4:04 pm - Reply

    We would love to license some of John’s paintings for our absorbent stone coaster line. Please have him contact me. We sell our products to big retailers across the US and the world. We’re always looking for talent and John certainly has that!

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About the Author: James Combs

James Combs was a pillar of Akers Media Group since its inception in 2008. Over the years, he had the honor of interviewing Lake & Sumter County's most fascinating personalities, from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans, bringing their incredible stories to life. Throughout his career, James earned over 50 awards for writing excellence, a testament to his talent and dedication. In 2021, he was inducted into the Akers Media Group Hall of Fame. Sadly, James passed away in 2023 after a courageous battle with cancer. His legacy of storytelling and excellence continues to inspire us all.

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