Scan the walls of Grisham’s Art in Jonesboro, and you’ll see scores of framed prints perfect for helping folks decorate their homes and reminisce on time spent outdoors. Owner Larry Grisham specializes in outdoor art, including prints of the stamps issued to local duck hunters by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Many of the framed pieces make their way into the hands of avid hunting enthusiasts. Those duck prints might look nice hanging in offices of businessmen and politicians around the state, but there’s much more to them.
Prints fashioned after each year’s duck stamps — a required purchase for any hunter aged 16 and up — have put millions of dollars in reserve for conservation projects overseen by the AGFC.
Where some might see nothing more than decoration, Steve Wilson, the former director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, visualizes more. Wilson sees the millions of dollars generated to help the Natural State continue holding a spot as one of the world’s premier duck hunting destinations.
Money from the duck stamp program helped Arkansas take part in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, a cooperative conservation plan established in 1986 and expanded to include Mexico. The NAWMP is active in protecting and supporting waterfowl habitats, and it’s crucial for any state with a waterfowl industry to be part of the cooperative effort.
Grisham has been in charge of selecting art and overseeing the program since 1982. If not for Grisham’s work, it is doubtful, Wilson said, Arkansas would have been able to heavily invest in improving wetlands and further developing wildlife habitats. It was the duck print program that allowed Arkansas to participate and protect one of its most valuable commodities.
“We were broke, absolutely dead broke, and we wouldn’t have had any money to participate if it hadn’t been for this program,” Wilson said. “I don’t think people realize how many millions of dollars this has meant for our state and waterfowl program.”
Arkansas began its duck stamp/print program in 1981. Grisham took over in 1982, and within the first 25 years the program had generated more than $8 million for conservation efforts.
What sets the program apart from others like it is the use of nationally renowned artists. Many states use some sort of licensing or stamp program to generate revenue from its hunters. Few have grown to the level of Arkansas under Grisham’s direction.
Is it any wonder the 73-year-old Grisham was a 2004 inductee into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame? Not bad for a guy whose only qualifications for running the duck stamp program were a love of hunting and art.
Grisham, a onetime Arkansas Razorback basketball player and now an avid outdoorsman who estimates he hunts 55 of 60 possible days in duck season, laughs when thinking back on the days after initially landing the contract. Leaning on help from friends in the outdoor art industry, Grisham, who is the president of the Heritage Bank board of directors, has helped make Arkansas’ duck stamp program arguably the nation’s best.
“I’m not entirely sure I knew what I was doing, but I had some good teachers and I’ve been able to learn,” Grisham said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the absolute best artists in the world. It’s been really fun.”
Working with world renowned artists has helped keep interest high not just in the stamps, but in the prints that can fetch anywhere from $1,200 for Lee LeBlanc’s 1981 “Bayou Meto Mallards” to $150 for the 2010 version from Phillip Crowe entitled “Olin’s Lane Mallards.”
Grisham has worked with a long list of nationally known wildlife artists. The group includes artists Dave Maass, Phillip Crowe, Maynard Reece, Jim Hautman, Ken Carlson and Larry Chandler.
Some states hold contests to pick the work on the stamp. While it ultimately keeps the price of commissioning the art low, the end result is not as professional as what Grisham said the state has come to expect from Arkansas’ stamps and prints.
Using well-known artists has helped keep the program going. So, too, has Grisham’s insistence that scenes vary from year to year. True to Arkansas, the stamps depict the variety of land where hunters gather from flooded fields to timberland.
Some years depict waterfowl as the focal point. Other years the artists choose instead to go with hunting companions such as black labs or golden retrievers, something Grisham thinks resonates with hunters.
“What we try to do is really com-memorate each print after an area, a wildlife management area or a well-known hunting club or spot in the state of Arkansas,” Grisham said. “I’m in and out of businesses and banks all over the state. I’m always amazed at how many of our duck stamp prints I see in halls, offices, meeting rooms.
“We try to keep them true to the experiences people will have hunting in Arkansas.”
Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation President Steve Smith thinks Grisham has been true to what the stamp and print program set out to be. By whatever way you measure it — memories or money generated — the program has been a success.
“I’d hoped it would become the premier print program in the country, which it has,” Smith said. “I attribute it to Larry Grisham’s selection of artists over the years. He’s got technical knowledge and gained a lot of it from hunting in the fields of Arkansas.
“What Larry has done means a lot to a lot of people.”