Leslie Kouba1917 - 1998
Born: February 3, 1917, Hutchinson, Minnesota
Died: September 13, 1998, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Specializing in waterfowl paintings, Leslie Kouba is recognized as one of the artists responsible for the revival of wildlife art in the 1970s. While growing up on a farm in Hutchinson, Minnesota, Kouba learned hunting, trapping, and fishing from his father and began recording many images of his rural life on scraps of paper. His parents enrolled him in a correspondence art course when he was fourteen years old, which provided the budding artist the flexibility and opportunity to learn artistic techniques in addition to performing his farm chores. He left home at age sixteen and traveled to thirty-eight states, supporting himself by doing commercial painting, such as lettering signs and designing Coca-Cola bulletins.
In 1937, Kouba returned home to Minnesota. He moved to Minneapolis at the outbreak of World War II to work for D.W. Onan & Sons Company, a manufacturer of portable electric generators, and was a successful contributor to the advertising department. After the war, Kouba started his own advertising company and designed the Art-O-Graph, a type of upright projector, which helped cut down time spent on the mechanical aspect of commercial art.
Although he supported himself with his commercial art, Kouba spent his nights and weekends continuing to work on his wildlife art. His fine art began to gain recognition when he was asked to contribute to Brown and Bigelow's calendars and was awarded covers for Sports Afield magazine. By 1952, his commercial art studio had developed into American Wildlife Galleries where he sold his own original artwork and represented many other wildlife artists as well. Kouba's design of Canadian geese was chosen as the twenty-fifth Federal Duck Stamp in 1957, and he won the prestigious award again in 1967 with an image of Squaw ducks. The artist and businessman continued to paint wildlife, supervise his gallery, and support Ducks Unlimited conservation efforts until his death in 1998.
Although he also painted big game animals and fish, Kouba is most known for his images of pheasants and waterfowl. His ornithological imagery is unique because he often incorporated a human element into the landscape, such as farm equipment, fences, barns, and windmills. He also liked to include some hidden treasures for viewers who look closely at his work, such as the small cottontail that can be found in all three images of his pheasant shelter series. Throughout his life, Kouba won numerous stamp competitions, illustrated several books and magazines, and generously donated time and money to charities.
"I believe to be successful you must work at something you enjoy. For me, the thing I liked to do best was painting wildlife. I wasn't content to look out the window for my ideas. I wanted to experience and learn all about the outdoors. I love it so much, I'd be painting, even if I didn't make any money at it."
(Source: Johnson, Kay J. "From Coca-Cola to Canvasbacks: Les J. Kouba," Wildlife Art News (March/April 1988): 46-59.)