Minnesota artist builds flock of followers on TikTok trying to win contest

As an artist, Kira Fennell has always loved painting animals. Her latest work of art may be a work in progress, but it is helping her spread her wings.

"I'm really excited to enter. I love that I have a lot of people supporting me now," said Fennell.

The 23-year-old from Inver Grove Heights is creating her latest entry for the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, an obscure juried art competition run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that raises money to help preserve wetlands.

The winning art is printed on $25 stamps hunters must buy and carry while hunting, and while there is no prize, the artist gets to keep the rights to their work, leading some to call it the "Million Dollar Duck".

"No one ever knows about it when I say I'm entering the duck stamp competition. They're like, 'what is that?' How is there a duck competition?"

Fennell first entered the contest after her grandfather told her about it in 2019, but last year she chronicled the process in a series of TikTok videos that went viral with millions of views and giving her nearly 200,000 followers.

Kira Fennell (FOX 9)

Her social media fame is helping her make a living as a full-time artist, and as one of the contest's youngest participants, she is bringing the competition to a new generation of fans.

"It's really unbelievable. I can't picture that many people know who I am and what I'm doing while I sit here in my living room and document the process."

Fennell hopes to join fellow Minnesotans, the Hautman brothers, who together have won the duck stamp contest a total of 14 times. 

And when the judging is done in late September, she believes her duck will fit the bill.

"I'm thrilled I took something I love and am passionate about and made it realistically and financially a reality for me, so I'm very pleased."