Feds duck controversy, restore prize for stamp art to 6-year-old girl

A 6-year-old South Dakota girl who was initially accused of cheating in a federally-sponsored art contest was restored as a winner, and her painting of a duck is again on track to be used on a U.S. postage stamp.

A 9-by-12-inch oil painting of a canvasback duck by Madison Grimm, of Burbank, S.D., was declared the winner from some 29,000 entries in the 2013 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest. In addition to having their artwork immortalized on a stamp, winners receive a $5,000 scholarship. But days after the April 19 announcement, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officials said Madison — whose father is a wildlife artist — had used an illegal transferring technique. The agency then crowned Peter Coulter, 17, of Missouri, for his acrylic painting of snow geese.

“We really felt that it was unjustly taken from her,” the girl’s father, Adam Grimm, told FoxNews.com. “It very much seemed to do with her age. Some people complained, ‘How could a girl who is only 6 have done this?’ Others said she must’ve had some kind of unfair advantage.”

Adam Grimm, a 34-year-old professional artist who won the Federal Duck Stamp Competition in 2000, said contest officials initially disqualified his daughter for using a graphite transfer from an unpublished photograph he took years ago. Rules of the contest clearly state that a design may not be copied or traced from published photographs or artwork, he said.


“I was a bit taken aback as to why they were using that as the reason they were disqualifying her,” he said. “I knew the rules. I really feel like they were out to find some reason to remove her. She was devastated. When someone thinks you cheated in some way, that cuts pretty deep.”

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Officials, in a statement released Thursday,  said it would reinstate Grimm as the winner and award her a $5,000 scholarship.

“Following the contest, concerns were raised about the authenticity of the work,” the statement read. “The Service disqualified the artwork last week. Since that time, the Service has continued to evaluate its decision and has decided to reinstate the original winner.”

Officials ultimately decided to reinstate Grimm’s work because it was judged as the winner during a “fair and open” public contest.

“The Service respects the decision of the contest judges, and apologizes for any distress this process may have caused the top-placing artists and their families, teachers and friends,” the statement continued.

A request for additional comment from U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials on Monday was declined. Attempts to reach Coulter, who saw his prize downgraded to a $3,000 scholarship, were not successful.

Grimm, meanwhile, hasn’t missed a beat and is already working on her subjects — a mallard and a hummingbird.

“We’re very proud of her,” Adam Grimm said of he and his wife, Janet, who home-schools Madison. “This is like her whole world; she has grown up seeing pheasants, ducks, geese, coyotes outside, you name it. This isn’t like some little kid who saw a picture and tried to draw it. She’s lived this.”

The Grimms live in rural Burbank, S.D., and constantly spot wildlife of all kinds near their home, some of which inspire Madison to pick up a colored pencil or a brush.

“Her coloring has been improving always, but this is the first time she’s really ever done an oil painting,” Adam Grimm said. “She’s enjoyed them, but she has struggled with them. But baby animals are her passion. She is constantly aware and intrigued by nature. I’m so proud.”

A national tour will follow for Madison, beginning with a First Day of Sale ceremony on June 28 at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Ashland, Va. The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature both the federal and junior duck stamp artists, as well as U.S. Postal Service officials selling Grimm's winning Junior Duck Stamp for $5 each.

“She reads very well and she’s not afraid of getting up in front of people to speak,” Adam Grimm continued. “So she’s very excited.”

Madison, for her part, told FoxNews.com she’s proud to have followed in her father’s footsteps. In 2000, Adam Grimm’s drake mottled duck appeared on the 2000-2001 Millennium Federal Duck Stamp after he won the Federal Duck Stamp Contest, the only federally legislated art competition in the country.

“I’m excited and I was amazed that I could’ve done that well,” Madison told FoxNews.com. “I kind of want to be like him, so I thought it looked like fun.”

Click for more on the Junior Duck Stamp Program.