Mike Marlar is a big fan of Sporting Classics magazine, especially when the cover features an artist’s rendering of an outdoor scenario that allows one to imagine.
“You can take a magazine like this and come home from work in the afternoon and it’s almost like it takes you on a vacation, to a destination somewhere,” Marlar said, pointing to a Sept./Oct. 2014 edition as an example.
On that cover, a monstrous brown grizzly, in full throat, rises on its hind legs in front of a prone hunter, who is seemingly pleading for mercy.
Marlar doesn’t long for a confrontation with a bear — mallards are much more his thing — but such drawings help fire his desire to describe outdoor adventure.
“It develops an interest,” said Marlar, creator of the 2019-2020 Arkansas Duck Stamp.
Marlar, a civil engineer by trade, is living a dream only one other Arkansan has experienced.
He is the second Arkansan in the duck stamp program’s 38 years to have his work selected — Zettie Jones was the other in 2003 — and his selection represents a shift away from artists of national and international renown who helped establish the state’s stamp on a national scale.
“Historically, the stamp has featured world-renowned artists,” said Deke Whitbeck, president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation. “I think that’s the reason the program has been a success, because you’ve had these world-renowned artists on the stamp.
“I thought it was important to feature an Arkansan, one who has hunted on public grounds. It’s more than just a beautiful picture or a painting, it tells a story. I think that’s what we were trying to have come across.”
Whitbeck has taken over the responsibility of selecting the duck stamp artist from Larry Grisham, the man who developed the program (begun by Rex Hancock and artist Lee LeBlanc) to showcase the state as a hunting haven and enhance Arkansas’ wildlife program through the sale of stamps and prints.
Grisham, a Jonesboro banker and artist, sought out the world’s best artists to help create a tone he believes is still being played today.
“We’ve become known as the best duck stamp program in the business,” Grisham said. “You won’t see any hokey art in the Arkansas program.”
Approval of Stamp
Marlar spent around one month on the actual painting. The process involved two months that included meetings with Arkansas Game and Fish officials and Grisham.
Grisham, who still serves as Whitbeck’s unpaid art director in the selection process, said he is proud of the work done by Marlar, who made three visits to Grisham’s Jonesboro home while working on the project.
“The last painting, it looked like a duck stamp design,” Grisham said. “What he finished up doing, he ought to be very proud. It fits nicely in the Arkansas Duck Stamp program, I’ll say.”
Marlar said he is grateful for the interest Grisham took in him.
“The advice Larry gave me enhanced my paintings,” Marlar said.
The finished product, five mallards flying into flooded timber with a family of hunters poised to shoot, engrosses with its color and detail.
“I’m real pleased,” Marlar said. “It gives me a great sense of fulfillment.”
Marlar, 58, said he will continue to pursue his passion for art, and not just the outdoors variety. He also draws and paints old-time Hall of Fame baseball players like Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson.
“I love baseball,” Marlar said. “As far as the art, I love to do the players of the 30s, 40s and 50s.”
His head-over-heels dive into the world of outdoors art began about 15 years ago, after growing up as an avid duck hunter and fisherman. He prefers east Arkansas in Prairie and Monroe counties for hunting ducks and north central Arkansas for quail.
“Whenever I’m out there, I’m out there to hunt,” Marlar said. “But I’m also looking for opportunities to take unique photographs.”
It is from the photographs that Marlar creates the backdrop of his hunting scenes. One of his favorite paintings shows ducks floating into ice-covered timber.
Marlar said Arkansas is one of the few places where hunters are hidden by timber, much different from Minnesota, known for its lakes and wide-open spaces.
“They fall right in front of you, come right at your face,” Marlar said of duck hunting in Arkansas.
“I’ll take a scene and make it a duck-hunting scene, with mallards falling into a particular area. I love to take photographs, and I develop those scenes from the photographs.”
Marlar said his interest in creating outdoor art has progressed after taking classes at the Arkansas Arts Center and receiving lessons from local artist Elizabeth McClanahan.
“I kept getting more and more into it,” Marlar said, “and started researching outdoor artists.”
Marlar’s influences include Richard Bishop, David Maass and Carl Rungius. Bishop was an engineer who painted the third Federal Duck Stamp in 1936 and hunted at Arkansas’ Wingmead Farms, founded by Edgar Queeny.
Whitbeck said he became aware of Marlar’s work from those who had been exposed to it, and said he quickly discovered that Marlar’s talent was much more than that of an engineer moonlighting as an artist.
“It was somewhat of an unorthodox thing going with an Arkansas artist,” Whitbeck said. “It was fun for Larry, who got to work with Mike. You know, he’s an engineer by day. He’s not just cranking these out.”
Maybe someday Marlar will be cranking them out like Maynard Reece and Maass, two of the most renowned artists to come to Arkansas to depict the state’s ducks.
“I enjoy the art, I definitely enjoy it,” Marlar said. “Engineering is my first priority. I’ll always continue my engineering practice.”
It doesn’t mean Marlar can’t dream.
About Mike Marlar
Hometown: North Little Rock
Occupation: Civil Engineer
Wife: Rhonda (married in 1985)
Children: James, 27, and twins Dean and Anna, 22
Education: Central Arkansas Christian, University of Arkansas
Prints: To order prints of Marlar’s work visit MarlarSportingArt.com, or call 501-516-2772.
Arkansas Duck Stamp Program
Year Begun: 1981
Coordinator: Deke Whitbeck, president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation
Notable Artists: Maynard Reece, David A. Maass, James Hautman
Sales: More than 100,000 stamps per season in recent years (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission)
Price: $7 for residents, $35 nonresidents
Purpose: To raise revenues for improving habitat for waterfowl and providing access to public lands for many of the state’s duck hunters and bird watchers