STEVENSVILLE – Carson Collinsworth stayed home sick from school Friday, but that didn’t mean he had a bad day.
Just after noon, the 15-year-old Whitefish teen received the phone call that the talented young artist had been hoping would come his way.
With this year’s judges of the Montana Junior Duck Stamp competition crowded around the telephone, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge’s Kim Pennington told the young man this year’s grand championship award would stay with his family.
“I could hear him say, ‘yessss,’ ” Pennington said later, with her own fist pump.
For the third year in a row, the Collinsworth family will represent the state in the national Junior Duck Stamp Competition. Carson’s sister, Kendyl, won the state competition in the previous two years.
“My sister was ducked out,” Pennington told the judges who had crowded around the phone to wish him congratulations.
Collinsworth’s used oil paints capture a Canadian goose on its nest.
He told judges that he had spotted the bird in a Kalispell park. He knew right away that was the bird he wanted to paint. It would take him close to 60 hours to get his entry just right.
“The grasses were nicely rendered,” said judge Russ Lawrence.
“The sky is so typical of what you see here,” agreed fellow judge Ron Jones. “The shading on his head is quite good.”
Five judges spent Friday morning looking over 215 entries in this year’s contest. Jones and Lawrence were joined by Kate Stone, Judy DeYoung and Perry Backus.
Bob Danley, the refuge’s outdoor recreation planner, said entry numbers were down this year.
“We usually get something closer to 500,” Danley said. “I think it’s probably a sign of the times. Schools are teaching for the test and there aren’t as many art teachers as there used to be.”
That’s disappointing considering the opportunity this contest provides young people with a chance to connect with their outside world.
“Connecting kids with nature is the most important thing about this contest,” Danley said. “You just don’t see kids playing outside any more like they used to do. ... We live in this place with all this public land where spectacular things are happening all the time. We want to make sure they don’t miss that.”
The contest also offers youngsters a chance to experiment a little with their creative side. Some learn that they really do have talent.
“Kids get to discover what’s within themselves,” Danley said. “The get the opportunity to open the can of tuna and see what’s inside.”
Collinsworth’s entry will be judged at the National Junior Duck Stamp Contest on April 19 at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Montana artists have won the national contest twice in its 20-year history.