(KMSP) - For most of us, it is hard to comprehend the kind of talent required to take what the eye sees and bring it to life in striking detail on canvas.
And then, to have that ability in the hands of three Minnesota brothers, one just as remarkable and successful as the other, in the competitive world of wildlife art.
Individually, the accomplishments of Bob, Jim and Joe Hautman are extraordinary; together, it's unheard of.
“When we first started, Jim and I were painting houses and roofing houses,” Bob said. “We started painting on driftwood, then one day we heard about this duck stamp contest […] we thought that would be fun, a contest. So, after we started doing that for a few years, we won.”
And won, and won. Collectively, the three brothers have walked away with more coveted "state" and "federal" duck stamp honors than you can list.
Most recently, older brother Joe won the 2016-2017 competition for his tundra swans, younger brother Jim just won with his flying Canada geese for the 2017-2018 federal stamp. Middle brother Bob has two federal wins of his own.
The competitive spirit in these brothers comes as naturally as their talent. The trio grew up in a St. Louis Park family of seven kids, where art, sports and hunting kept them close then and to this day.
“I think time in the field is what starts it,” Jim said. “It'll be something you experienced or something you saw, either hunting or just being outdoors, and you come up with an idea in your head, and it's a great idea, and you try to get it down, and it usually never works out that way. It usually evolves into something else.”
A peek inside Jim's studio and a look at his next painting reveals just that.
“This is one from a more recent experience. I'm going about it a little different,” he said. “This is where we elk hunt in Montana, where our camp is, about 100 yards down into the woods called Iron Creek.”
It's there, where the three brothers saw three cougars - very rare - and for Jim, inspiring.
So, he will paint it. On this day, the animal's tail and the foot were "challenging" him.
This kind of mastery of wildlife painting does not come easy. In Hautman paintings, realism and detail are everything. And, if it's a competition piece, the devil is often in those details.
“I did this painting, and at the last minute I took out a mounted black scoter that I had and I noticed that there were these little teeth here,” Joe said. “So, I put those in there just because that detail is there.”
And, in a tie breaker for the federal duck stamp that year, a biologist was called in to examine Joe's painting up against another's. Those little ridges turned out to be what judges awarded him the win on.
Despite all the wins and "wildly" popular prints, even a Hautman needs help from time to time. So, they most often turn to another Hautman.
“A lot of times you look at it for so long you can't see it anymore and it just looks like paint,” Bob said. “You turn it upside down and work on it upside down. Then we look in mirrors to look at it backwards to see it a different way.”
The brothers said that despite their similarities, they each notice special talents in each other
“There are definitely areas that I think each of us specialize in,” Jim said, “and I couldn't even name them if I told you, but I know when I look at Bob's I like certain things about his more, and certain things about Joe’s I like.”
At the Art Barbarians in Rogers, Minnesota, where Chris Knutson has been selling Hautman paintings and prints for 20 years, he'll tell you talent is everything, but blood doesn't hurt either.
“I’ve said this to a lot a people over the years: what the Hautman brothers have, which most artists don’t have, is they have three sets of eyes looking at it, three professional sets of eyes, and these guys are tighter than any group of artists you could ever find,” Knutson said.
Which begs the question, with all that talent in one family, will this brotherhood of artists ever do one magnificent wildlife masterpiece?
“I could see doing it someday,” Bob said. “But we've never found the right situation.”
“I think it would be interesting,” Jim added. “And, I think we probably will do one someday, but, you know, we get lumped together so often that I think that's probably one of the last things we need to do is confuse everybody even more.”