A Collector's Guide to Fine Outdoors Artwork

IN MY PERSONAL avid pursuit of sporting art (I positively despise naked walls), an old bromide often comes to mind: "I don't know anything about art, but I know what I like."

Like many cliches, that one hits the mark. Enjoying a work of art isn't about what you know about paintings; it's what you know about yourself.

My David Maass painting of bluebills twisting toward the decoys on a storm-swept marsh might elicit nothing more from you than a courteous nod and the comment, "That's nice." But to me, it's a picture to absolutely die for, an indelible moment crystallized from hours spent on many past waterfowl hunts.

Another favorite, my framed print of Winslow Homer's celebrated Boy Fishing, depicts an Adirondack Mountain youngster alone in a canoe landing a brook trout larger than any you'll find in that region today. Now, big squaretails and the Adirondacks may not speak to you at all. To me, however, the image conjures up such strong feelings of my lifetime pursuit of the species that I feel privileged to own it, especially since the original painting is worth a fortune and obviously will never grace my home.

"Paintings should speak for themselves," says well-known English artist Rodger McPhail. Such sentiments are mine exactly. The emotional response a work of art elicits means everything. What critical barbs or acclaim it has garnered, what it costs--those are all sideshows to the main event. All that really counts is the way the picture speaks to me.

OPPORTUNITY AWAITS
Whether you are interested in becoming a serious collector or, like myself, simply want to keep those walls covered with the best pictures you can find and buy, we are living in a time of opportunity. Owning the paintings and prints that resonate deeply with us has never been easier than right now. The greatest gunning and fishing ever seen may be in the past, but the artistic reflections of those days are with us on every side, readily obtainable.

Flushing out meaningful prints and paintings that you can afford is a rewarding type of hunt. As in real hunts, you must learn where the best covers are, how to work edges that others have overlooked, and where to find the real treasure troves.

You might begin the chase on the pages of magazines such as FIELD & STREAM and others targeted for specific audiences, such as The Pointing Dog Journal, Shooting Sportsman, Atlantic Salmon Journal, and Fly Fisherman. Two magazines that are particularly art-intensive are Gray's Sporting Journal and Sporting Classics. Mail-order catalogs are another source, especially the exclusive sporting art source Wild Wings, whose catalog pages are filled with the works of artists such as David Maass and Mark Susinno.

Check out any of these with a simple Google search. But be forewarned: Once you're online, you may become engrossed for a long time, tracking down these artistic trophies.

Web searches can turn up the unexpected. Just the other day I was pursuing the works of two of the greatest FIELD & STREAM artists of all time, Lynn Bogue Hunt and C.E. Monroe Jr. The chase led me to a wonderful site, new to me, called barewalls.com: There I found new leads not only for great prints but also for FIELD & STREAM covers.

PERSONAL PREFERENCES
My own tastes lead me to search for works I can afford in three categories: (1) the classics; (2) the artists I have known and worked with during my years as an outdoor magazine editor; and (3) today's new wave.

In the classics category, the name of the game is prints. Originals from these gentlemen go for fortunes: Lynn Bogue Hunt, Ogden M. Pleissner, Winslow Homer, Carl Rungius, James M. Sessions, Charles M. Russell, A.B. Frost, Peter Scott, Frank Benson, William Schaldach, and David Hagerbaumer.

My middle group features artists I have known personally and worked with extensively. Some have passed on; others are still painting. The list includes the likes of Bob Kuhn, David Maass, John Scott, Guy Coheleach, Tom Beecham, Robert Abbett, Maynard Reece, John Clymer, Francis Golden, Tom Hennessey, and Chet Reneson.

I can hardly call my new-wave group complete, for there are many artists whose works I have yet to discover. But you won't regret seeking out these: Rod Crossman, John Swan, Brett James Smith, Mark Susinno, Adriano Manocchia, Rodger McPhail, and Peter Corbin.

FINE POINTS
If you are fortunate enough to find an original painting that you can afford, it should obviously be signed by the artist. Prints may or may not be signed, although their value increases if they are. The value also goes up if a print is numbered and from a limited edition. A highly prized bonus for both originals and prints is that they be remarqued by the artist: that is, a tiny drawing is made in the margin.

Once you have your new art prize in hand, make sure you use framing with ultraviolet-blocking glass and acid-free matting back and front. Sporting art authority Drew Holl warns that without this protection, the colors of even the finest paintings and prints will eventually fade by exposure to ultraviolet light. "I once saw an entire collection of Ogden Pleissner prints ruined by UV light reflections from the snow coming through windows," he says. "The more valuable your art, the more you need protection."

Collecting sporting art that reflects your most memorable moments afield can be an open-ended lifetime pleasure. The first hunters painted pictures on the walls of their caves. They didn't know anything about art, you see, but they knew what they liked.

INTERNET ART SOURCES
The following websites are all excellent venues for browsing and searching:****

allposters.com: The name says posters, but there are prints here, too. 888-654-0143

art.com: Prints and posters. A variety of artists to peruse. 800-952-5592

artcyclopedia.com: You'll find extensive listings and diversity in this great search site.

artnet.com: Artists, galleries, prints, pricing--it's all here. 800-427-8638

artprintcollection.com: This site covers all sorts of art, including quality sporting works. You may find what you want here. 800-404-2174

barewalls.com: Prints and posters of some of the finest sporting artists ever, including FIELD & STREAM greats. 877-227-3925

brettsmith.com: Brett James Smith's shooting and fishing paintings are among the best out there today, and he has the finest backcountry camping scenes I've seen. 985-893-5163

chetreneson.com: Superb watercolors on gunning and fishing subjects. Chet Reneson is one of today's sporting art superstars. 860-434-2806

clymermuseum.com: Mountain men, Western history, wildlife: When you own a John Clymer, you've really got something. 509-962-6416

collectorscovey.com: This Texas-based gallery is packed with quality fishing, hunting, big-game, and wildlife art. 214-521-7880

dogpainting.com: A distinguished William Secord New York gallery of dog paintings. 877-249-3647

gallerydirectart.com: This is the authorized site for Mill Pond Press, plus a variety of other artists. 800-733-1144

maynardreecegallery.com: One of my lifelong favorites, Maynard Reece, offers an irresistible website. 515-274-1880

petercorbin.com: Peter Corbin is one of today's most distinguished working artists, and his site reflects that. 845-677-5020

printfinders.com: They've got 150,000 prints and posters to browse and search. 888-997-6783

robertabbett.com: Top-notch artist and a great site, especially for wingshooting and dogs.

rodcrossman.com: His works appear frequently in Gray's Sporting Journal. Outstanding.

russellfinkgallery.com: A distinguished wildlife and sporting art specialist. 703-550-9699

sportsmanseye.com: This site offers a variety of works by the sporting art greats. 781-740-0250

wildwings.com: An art browser's paradise with something for everybody. Request the catalogs for more leisurely searching. 800-445-4833