JOHN S. WILSON
Watertown is a quiet little village
in the Northeast corner of South Dakota. John Wilson is an
equally quiet man with no interest in the razzle-dazzle of
city life. However, his peaceful existence came to an abrupt
end on November 5, 1980; his painting of a pair of ruddy ducks
had won the federal duck stamp contest. He had become an instant
John was born on June 6, 1939,
in Sisseton, South Dakota, a place not too far from his present
residence in Watertown. Although his parents were no better
off financially than many other families during the depression
years, John had one advantage: he had access to large expanses
of farmland and wilderness where he could hunt and fish.
His fondest memories of his childhood
invariably center around the numerous hunting and fishing
trips he took accompanied only by his loyal cocker spaniel,
Tippy. They shared that special bond which can only be felt
between a boy and his dog, and for the entire fifteen years
of Tippy's life, they were constant field companions.
At age 17, John enlisted in the
United States Air Force and remained there for eight years.
He was assigned to the crash rescue teams at Williams Air
Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona, and Mark Air Force Base,
Nome, Alaska, spending six years picking up the pieces left
by pilot error or mechanical failure. At times it was grim
and depressing work and he finally worked his way into air
installations and then to painting
After his separation from the
Air Force, he accepted short term employment with a construction
firm as a painter. At the same time he met a pretty, young
bookkeeper by the name of Avis Chilson. After a year of courtship
they were married and moved to Wahpeton, North Dakota, where
John had enrolled in a school for architectural drafting.
While still enrolled in school
he left the construction firm and found a position with a
sign company in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Later, he arranged
a transfer to Watertown and remained with the company for
John painted for his own pleasure
and relaxation at night and on weekends. However, he did not
paint wildlife subjects until 1976 when South Dakota announced
that the state had instituted a mandatory duck stamp program
and was soliciting artists to enter the contest for the first
design. John entered a painting of a trumpeter swan; it took
second place to a pair of mallards by Robert Kusserow.
The experience fired him with
enthusiasm and he concentrated his efforts on painting the
wildlife native to South Dakota, particularly the birds. In
1979 the state changed the duck stamp to a pheasant restoration
stamp and John's painting of a pair of ringnecks won the top
prize. He repeated that feat for the 1981 pheasant stamp.
When he isn't painting, John
is usually pursuing his favorite sport-fishing-the walleye
being tops on his game-fish list. When pressure builds up
and his nerves become a bit frayed, hooking a walleye makes
him forget everything except the very personal contest between
him and his worthy adversary.