Stroking a Grand Slam

John House 

MELBY, Minn. John House made history, but not without
some controversy.

House, 50, became the first artist to win all four of Minnesota's
wildlife stamp contests, duck, pheasant, trout and turkey, when his
painting of three wild turkeys in a cornfield was picked by the
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently as the winner of
the 2008 state wild turkey stamp competition.

House also won the 1999 duck stamp, 2004 pheasant stamp and 2006
trout stamp competitions. Three other artists also had three legs
of the so-called ``grand slam."

"There are other artists in Minnesota chasing it, I was just fortunate enough to be the first one," House said.

``If I wasn't so aware of my faults, I would have a very swollen head. It was a long road and I had way more defeats than wins."

House estimated he's entered 20 Minnesota stamp contests.

"This is a big deal. It's marvelous," he said. "Now I get to change my
stationery. I get to have 'grand slam winner' on my letterhead."

The victory did not come without hullabaloo.

When the contest was judged in January, House's entry was chosen
as one of three finalists but then was mistakenly left out of the
final judging. Another painting that didn't make the final cut was

Judges chose a painting by Mark Kness of Albert Lea as the
winner out of those three. The mistake was discovered several days
later and DNR officials decided to re-judge the correct finalists
with new judges.

House won and Kness finished third.

``Ultimately, our decision to re-judge the appropriate three
finalists with a new and impartial panel of judges was based on a
thorough review of contest rules and a commitment to the
credibility of our wildlife stamp art contests," said the DNR's
C.B. Bylander. ``We apologize to the contest artists."

House said the mistake made for a stressful few days, but said
the DNR did the right thing.

``It was a bumpy ride, but in the end I won and it's a great
feeling," he said. ``They found an error, they admitted the error
and they corrected it."

Artists receive no compensation from the DNR for winning a stamp
contest, but receive reproduction and marketing rights.

With the sale of prints, that can be worth thousands of dollars.

In House's
case, winning all four Minnesota contests means he'll likely do
well among collectors.

House, who said he's finished entering state contests, does have one more contest goal: winning the federal duck stamp
competition conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

One of the five species artists are allowed to enter in the
federal contest this year is House's favorite duck, the canvasback.

House lives near Lake Christina in Otter Tail County, a legendary
stopping point on the canvasback's migration route, and he's hunted
the lake for decades.

``I really, really want to do that," he said of winning the
federal contest.

After finishing some commissioned portrait work, House will
begin working on his canvasback entry in the spring. He's entered
the federal competition three times, with his best finish a tie for
11th place.

House, dabbled in art as a youth but did not have any formal art training, said he has been an artist full-time for about 30 years. Growing up on a couple hundred acres, he was drawn to the outdoors.

Tired of college, he quit school to became a fishing guide in Canada.

"That was wonderful medicine," he said, soon coming back home and marrying his high-school sweetheart.

He began a career carving decoys, which was a struggle at first.

"It was very foolish, but we made it," said House, who went on to win several awards before "foolishly" quitting carving and taking up painting.

"Somehow, by hook and by crook, we made it. And now we're really chugging."