GREENWICH, CT, March 22, 2022- The Bruce Museum is proud to announce that Greenwich resident Richie Prager has donated 68 original artworks related to the Federal Duck Stamp program. Launched in 1934, the Federal Duck Stamp represents the oldest continual stamp series in United States history. The program is arguably the most successful conservation initiative in the US, having raised more than $1 billion and conserved over 6 million acres of wetlands across all 50 states.
The program has received much publicity due the release of the documentary “Million Dollar Duck” (produced by Mr. Prager) and a recent extended feature on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Waterfowlers are required to purchase the Duck Stamps, and the stamp also provides free access to all parks in the National Wildlife Refuge System. An avid community collects duck stamps, and rare or unique versions can command high prices.
Approximately 1.5 million duck stamps are sold each year, but all are derived from a single unique painting. During an annual contest hosted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a panel of judges selects a winning artwork depicting one of five eligible waterfowl species based on artistic merit, biological accuracy, and whether the artwork can be reduced in size with typography for a stamp. The winning selection is featured on the following year’s duck stamp. Mr. Prager served as a judge for the 2017 contest.
Mr. Prager became fascinated with tracking down the original works, eventually assembling a collection that includes most of the existing winning art works. The collection donated to the Bruce Museum include acrylic and oil paintings, drawings, and in one case, the original etching plate for the prints from Richard Bishop’s 1936 winning entry, reflecting changing styles over the nearly century-long history of the program.
Bruce Museum Director Dr. Robert Wolterstorff said, “I am thrilled that this collection of national importance has come to the Bruce Museum, an organization with a mission to promote the understanding and appreciation of art and science to enrich the lives of all people. This collection is a perfect example of the intersection of art and science and carries a strong message about conservation. Mr. Prager has dedicated years to collecting these works and we are so grateful he has chosen to share them with our museum and community.”
Prager credits Russ and Marlee Fink, who collaborated with him to assemble the collection. For the last 50 years, Mr. Fink has authored “Duck Stamp Prints,” the premier reference on Federal Duck Stamp Art. Prager reflects on these works, stating “This collection is a real passion of mine and I always planned to donate them. Something about the Bruce Museum felt right – it feels good to give back to your local community knowing that many people beyond Greenwich will have an opportunity to view the artwork.”
The Bruce Museum plans to host an exhibition premiering the newly acquired works in the “New Bruce” expanded museum in 2024. The show will feature the art collection along with associated natural history specimens and historical objects, with an aim to educate the public about the Duck Stamp program’s mission to conserve wetlands. Every year,about 1.5 million stamps are sold – raising around $40 million for the conservation effort. Prager asks, “Imagine if we could increase Duck Stamp sales by selling 3 million stamps a year or more? Imagine the conservation impact? Why doesn’t everyone buy a Duck Stamp?”
In the future, Richie Prager plans to continue his treasure hunt for Federal Duck Stamp winning entries with the intention to donate them to the Bruce collection. He hopes the exhibition (which is slated to travel to other U.S. venues) will educate the public on the impact of the Duck Stamp program.
“This is a tremendously important program,” notes Bruce Museum Curator of Science Dr. Daniel Ksepka. “The wetlands preserved though the efforts of this program provide critical habitat not only for waterfowl, but for thousands of other species.” Ksepka added, “The Prager Collection is a real piece of Americana. The style of the etchings, drawings and paintings evolved over time in such a way that seeing all of the works together in one place really tells a remarkable story.”