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Hautman Brothers: "Duck Dynasty"

How three brothers from Minnesota came to rule the obscure and peculiar world of competitive duck painting

Article by: Martin J. Smith, MN Monthly

The thin, thoughtful man who answers the door wears gray sweats, hiking shoes, and a couple days’ growth of beard. Joe Hautman, of Plymouth, doesn’t look like a theoretical physicist, which he is. He doesn’t look like one of the country’s leading wildlife artists, either, although he’s that, too. Nor does he look like his two brothers, who are also wildlife painters—among the best known in American art today.

But as Hautman narrates a tour of his elegant mid-century-modern house, clues to his family’s story emerge. He passes several framed paintings on the walls, all originals, bearing the signature “Elaine Hautman.” The walls of his light-filled studio are hung with what to some might seem a macabre collection of animal parts: the disembodied but elegantly arrayed tail feathers of a pheasant, and the severed wings of at least half a dozen ducks, one of which is affixed to the wall with a throwing dart. Taxidermied waterfowl line his bookshelves, some nobly standing, others frozen in eternal flight.

“Reference,” he says by way of explanation, and in a weird sort of way, it’s a perfectly eloquent way to start the story of how Joe Hautman and his two brothers have, since 1989, established one of Minnesota’s most peculiar and astounding little dynasties.

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