Drawn to ducks

Artist teams up with ‘Duck Dynasty’ family to produce official lithograph

The Robertsons have gone artsy.

Stars of A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” Phil Robertson and his quirky West Monroe clan have teamed up with Mandeville artist Michael Hunt for the first-ever The Duck Commander official lithograph. Its subject, wood ducks, is one the Robertson family knows well. The Robertsons’ businesses include Duck Commander and Buck Commander, and they’ve been making hunting videos and appearing on the Outdoor Channel for years. In its second season, “Duck Dynasty” (airing Wednesday nights) is one of A&E’s most-watched shows, only triggering more growth for the family empire.

But the Robertsons, a close-knit, church-going family of bearded hunters, are also about giving back. A percentage of sales from the duck print, which “the Duckmen” have hand-signed, will go to wetlands conservation.

“We never went looking to get into the art world, but it certainly has been a good fit. Of course, there’s a lot of popularity because of the show, and Michael is a tremendous artist,” Alan Robertson said last week by phone from West Monroe.

If Alan Robertson’s name doesn’t ring a bell with viewers, it’s because he has yet to appear on “Duck Dynasty.” The oldest of Phil and Kay Robertson’s four sons, Alan Robertson returned to the family business six months ago after working for 22 years at the church the family attends. He and his wife, Lisa, are expected to be introduced onto the reality series by season’s end.

“Michael, on all of his projects, likes to do something aimed toward charity,” Alan Robertson said. “That was his idea (wetlands conservation) actually and he asked us what we thought, and we said, obviously, ‘Great, that’s right in our wheel house; that’s what we like to do, too.’”

Hunt proposed the project after learning about the Robertsons from his children, fans of “Duck Dynasty.” He sent the family some prints of his Drew Brees painting, and arranged a trip to West Monroe to meet the Robertsons.

“We went to Phil and Kay’s house. You know, Phil’s laying back in his camouflage recliner, and I said, ‘How do you do, Mr. Robertson? I’m Michael Hunt.’ The first words he said to me were, ‘You’re weird, aren’t you, son?’ He said, ‘I never met an artist, but I’ve heard y’all are weird.’ And he says, ‘Good, ’cause we like weird around here,’ ” Hunt recalled, laughing.

The Robertsons showed the “weird” artist around their 800 acres of hunting grounds, complete with 40 duck blinds. Hunt snapped photos of the ducks as they went.

Through dinner and dish washing, the Robertsons and the Hunts clicked, the artist said.

“They realized we’re just good Southern people just like them, and it was like long lost family,” Hunt said.

The family aspect is front and center on “Duck Dynasty,” with the duck call and decoy business as its background. Alan Robertson thinks this formula is what’s made the show connect so well with viewers.

“A couple of things I think really caught the attention of the country,” he said. “I think it’s a very family-oriented, positive message opposed to a negative message, which, unfortunately, a lot of reality shows are based on people fighting, and not getting along, a lot of bleeping out and stuff like that, and it’s totally different, and I think that’s one of the things. And of course, our faith is a part of it as well, since they close every episode with a prayer. Our family motto has always been ‘God, Family and Ducks.’ Of course, A&E turned it a little bit and said ‘Money, Family and Ducks.’ I think that really resonates culturally, where the country is. The other thing that’s just nuts and bolts, is that the show is just really funny. It’s authentic.”

In addition to the Robertsons and their children and grandchildren, Phil Robertson’s brother, Si, has evolved into one of the show’s most popular characters, his nephew said.

“Everybody has their comparison,” Alan Robertson said, in attempting to classify “Duck Dynasty.” “I think it’s a modern version of ‘Andy Griffith,’ because, you’ve kind of got that crazy character like Barney and you watch because of him, and that’s kind of like Si, and then you’ve got the folksy philosopher, like Andy Griffith, and that’s Dad, and Miss Bee is Miss Kay, and it’s just kind of funny how it just came out. I think that’s why that show lives and endures in reruns. It always ends with a good moral.”

As for the always entertaining Uncle Si, Alan Robertson said viewers are only getting a glimpse of his uncle’s personality.

“He’s more than that. You’re actually getting the more tame version of that when you see him on TV,” he said. “Si’s always been that crazy uncle. He was career military and I just think because of his life experience, and he’s also one of the youngest ones in the Robertson clan, and there’s seven total, so I think he was always having to try to get attention so people would recognize him in the family. His anti-authority take on life, we’ve just kind of laughed at him, and he’s just been kind of the centerpiece of our duck blind and our family gatherings for a long time.”

Known for how to turn an entertaining phrase, Si Robertson, on a video on Hunt’s website, describes the artist as “the Warhol of waterfowl, the Degas of ducks.”

Indeed, Hunt said he it took two months to create the oil painting of the wood ducks pair, a drake and hen, as he worked meticulously, going so far as to count feathers in the photos to get the piece just right.

“Phil (Robertson) is so adamant about accuracy and I wanted the Phil Robertson seal of approval. And he really liked it.”

Hunt said initially the idea was for him to draw the four Duckmen — Si, Phil, son Willie who runs Duck Commander, and son Jase. Along the way the focus changed to capturing the beauty of the wood ducks, with the four Robertsons and Hunt signing each of the 1,500 color prints. A pencil sketch version of the painting also is available, with small renderings of the four underneath. These are signed by just one of the four, with each of the Robertsons signing some of these editions. There are also 300 artist proof editions available, again signed by all four, and included with a Duck Commander call featuring a hand-painted wood duck.

“Many people consider the wood duck to be the most beautiful of all waterfowl,” Hunt said. “I wanted it to be a very elegant piece.”

Hunt and the Robertsons hope to make this an annual project, with a different artist and duck species each year.

“It’s kind of our way of keeping wildlife art Louisiana pure and Louisiana proud,” Hunt said. “And what better way to do it than involving the Robertsons.”