Ledge Light anchors canvas of winning Duck Stamp painting

This painting five canvasback ducks flying over the Thames River with the Ledge Light in the background was chosen as the winner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s annual Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp Art Contest.
This painting five canvasback ducks flying over the Thames River with the Ledge Light in the background was chosen as the winner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s annual Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp Art Contest.

Editor's note: This version of the article adds information not included in the original version.

Even though he’s never seen it in person, wildlife artist Mark Thone knew instantly when he first encountered New London Ledge Light in a photograph that he wanted to incorporate it into the painting he was planning to create for the annual Connecticut Duck Stamp contest.

“There are so many wonderful lighthouses, but when I saw that red lighthouse, it was like a beacon for me,” Thone, who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, Minn., said Thursday. “It’s this red tower in the middle of the river, and you think of how they built that way back when. I just found it fascinating.”

Thone’s 18-by-13-inch acrylic painting of five canvasback ducks flying over the Thames River with the lighthouse in the background was chosen as the winner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s annual Migratory Bird Conservation Stamp Art Contest. This is the second year in a row the winning duck stamp depicted a scene from southeastern Connecticut. Winner of last year's contest was an image by Jeffry Klinefelter showing three American brant flying over New London Harbor Light.

Proceeds from sales of the stamps, which waterfowl hunters are required to purchase with their licenses and are also sold to collectors and the general public, fund preservation, conservation and management of wetlands and other habitat for ducks, geese and other water birds.

Thone, whose work has placed high in several other states’ hunting stamp contests, and who recently won the Nevada Duck Stamp contest, said that when he decided to enter the Connecticut competition he envisioned a painting with a lighthouse. Then he found the perfect subject in the unique, century-old red brick-and-granite three-story edifice at the gateway to New London Harbor. His work was selected from among 18 entries to the contest, including seven from Connecticut artists.

Once he decided to put Ledge Light and the mouth of the Thames in his painting, Thone said, he chose canvasbacks as the waterfowl species he'd feature because the deep red feathers on the male's head would complement the brick exterior of the lighthouse. He read about the history of the lighthouse, examined multiple images he found on the Internet, and used Google Earth to do some virtual driving up and down Pequot Avenue in New London to understand how it looked from shore.

“I looked at how it sits in the bay, and where the sun hits it,” he said. “It’s a very unique setting. I intend to come see it.”

During his research, he learned about the legend of Ernie, the former keeper of Ledge Light who some say haunts the lighthouse.

“I put a faint image of a lighthouse keeper in my painting,” he said. The image, he said, won’t be visible in the stamps, which are 1 3/8-by-2-inch copies of the original. But anyone who views the original, which will be on display with the second- and third-place contest winners through the end of August at DEEP’s Wilding Division Sessions Woods Conservation Education Center in Burlington, will be able to find the figure. It will also be seen in the prints that will be available later this year through the artist's website, www.artbymarkthone@msn.com. This fall, copies of the prints signed by Thone will be sold through DEEP for $250 each, with funds going to wetlands projects, according to Min Huang, migratory bird program leader for DEEP.

Huang said about 5,000 duck stamps are sold each year, providing an important source of funding for conservation work.

The Connecticut duck stamp program began in 1990, modeled after a similar federal program. Over the 16 years it has been in existence, the program has generated more than $1.5 million for habitat work, and been used to leverage matching grants. By combining Duck Stamp funds with these grants, more than $4 million has been made available for wildlife conservation projects, including the restoration or enhancement of more than 3,445 acres of wetlands and 50 sites, DEEP said in a news release. The funds have also be used to buy 75 acres of wildlife habitat and fund habitat projects, benefiting 274 species of birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that depend on wetlands, DEEP said.

The stamps, which will be available in November or early December, sell for $13 each wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold, including town clerks’ offices, retail hunting stores, DEEP offices and through DEEP’s online Sportsmen’s Licensing System. Upon request, stamps can also be mailed.

j.benson@theday.com

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