By Tanner Kent
---- — Nearly 30 years before he rose to national prominence by winning the Federal Duck Stamp in 1980-81, Dick Plasschaert was just a 10-year-old boy with a pencil and a scrap of paper.
In a retrospective of the Waseca artist's 50-year career — which has included national accolades and countless paintings sold across the United States — the Waseca Art Center is exhibiting one piece that Plasschaert himself calls his "pride and joy": a pencil drawing of a grim-faced Native American he sketched as a young boy (not without talent) on the back of a theater advertisement.
Among the dozens of wildlife paintings, landscapes and portraits included in the exhibit — Plasschaert's first in Waseca in decades — that yellowed paper has the distinction of marking the very beginning of what would be become a long and successful career.
"We dug through the whole house to find that little drawing," Plasschaert said.
Since that drawing, Plasschaert has amassed an impressive list of awards and commissions. In addition to the 1980-81 Federal Stamp, he was chosen as the artist for the first North Dakota Duck Stamp, the first North Carolina Duck Stamp, the First New Hampshire Duck Stamp, the First Minnesota Conservation Federation Stamp and Print, the Louisiana Turkey Stamp and the National Turkey Stamp. In addition to designing several other stamps, he was Ducks Unlimited's 2001 International Artist of the Year.
That kind of name recognition has led to a robust market for Plasschaert's paintings and prints. Online searching yields dozens of sites that carry his work, and both public and commercial galleries across the country display his paintings.
But even though Plasschaert said his interest in art goes back as far as he can remember, his widespread recognition has a definite starting point.
He began painting in earnest in 1964, working primarily in portraits, still lifes and landscapes (a few examples of which are on display in the retrospective and likely never seen by local audiences). He sold a few paintings and even quit his day job a few times to try making a living as a professional artist; but he ran out of money each time.
Winning the Federal Duck Stamp, however, changed everything overnight.
"I guess if I'm a success it's because I was too dumb to quit," Plasschaert told People Magazine in an interview in December 1979, not long after he'd been notified that he won the 1980-81 stamp.
Even today, Plasschaert retains a humble and self-deprecating view of his art and success.
Though his style is highly detailed and painfully meticulous, he disregards any fanciful observations about his precise and delicate brush strokes by characterizing his process as "starting with a bunch of chicken scratching and seeing where it goes."
And while his style of naturalism is masterfully applied, Plasschaert said "I only paint enough feathers to make it look like a duck."
To this day, the artist said he's only been satisfied with a small handful of his paintings. And even then, he said, "it's only because I couldn't find anything that I'd have done differently."
But that attitude, Plasschaert said, is what kept him driving forward.
Before winning the duck stamp, he painted in almost all of his free time outside of work. After his success, he said in interviews that he painted 60-80 hours a week and rarely took a full day off.
"If you're satisfied with what you do, then you won't improve any," he said. "My goal has always been to make my next painting better than my last."
If You Go What Dick Plasschaert retrospective exhibit Where Waseca Art Center, 200 State St. N. When On display through June 7. Opening reception 7-9 p.m. Friday at the gallery