Mechanicsville wildlife illustrator had an eye for the real beauty in nature
Duck marshes throughout Virginia and the MidAtlantic region must be grieving this week, for one who captured their essence and wondrous beauty has finished his last watercolor showing birds on wing over cattails and cordgrass.
Carl “Spike” Knuth, a Mechanicsville resident, died Nov. 12 at age 83 after “hanging tough,” as family members described it, through a prolonged illness.
Waterfowl and other feathered creature enthusiasts in Virginia and beyond should well know of Mr. Knuth’s contributions and generosity. His paintings and illustrations of ducks, geese, fish and other wildlife were mainstays at regional waterfowl shows and Ducks Unlimited banquets.
He donated an estimated 600 ormore original paintings and illustrations to conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited and Hunters for theHungry. His paintings and limitededition prints are prized possessions in many duck hunters’ homes and cabins, including mine.
“Spike was a master art
ist and extremely generous with his artwork to Ducks Unlimited,” said Dan
Ross, a past state chapter president for DU. “With over 500 original paintings donated to DU, he was instrumental in chapter fundraising efforts to support many wetland-restoration projects, across the state and nation.”
Artist and storyteller
Born in Wisconsin, Mr. Knuth readily shared stories and photos about his family’s outdoor lifestyle, whether it was ice fishing, hunting or rambling about on the troupe’s beloved motorcycles. He began working in the Virginia Game Commission’s information and education section in 1974, producing broadcast shows and reports, while illustrating countless articles and more than 80 covers for Virginia Wildlife and other magazines.
Lee Walker, communications manager for Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources, worked with Mr. Knuth for 16 years. Mr. Knuth developed the “Virginia Wildlife” television show that aired on numerous stations across the country.
“He started with shooting film and then made
the transition to videotape. You could say he was a pioneer with bringing Virginia’s wildlife into the homes of thousands of people across the state,” Walker said.
His body of work was astounding, with his artworkwinning numerous awards from organizations such as the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Virginia Outdoor Writers Association. Mr. Knuth’s paintings became five duck stamps, including Indiana’s 1978 stamp and Virginia’s 1992 and 1999 stamps. He designed Virginia’s lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, plus the popular bluebird license plate that was part of the Department of Motor Vehicles conservation series. Original paintings and illustrations numbered more than 3,000.
His favorite painting, “Yellow-throats,” was among 50 paintings
displayed at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Bird Art Show in Wausau, Wisc., in 1979. This piece also made a world tour, exhibited in fine arts academies in Scotland and England, plus the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. It made the cover of Scotland’s Edinburgh magazine.
Mr. Knuth was the Rappahannock River Wildlife Art Festival’s “Artist of the Year” in 2000 and his painting titled “Old Squaw” was print of the year, the first year the show began offering these commemorative prints in full color. He penned many blogs and journals, most reflecting his naturalist perspectives.
He began drawing pictures of birds as a young boy, but his painting interests really took off in 1963, the year he and his bride of 57 years married. According to his family, Susie bought Spike awatercolor set, and he began painting at an old porcelain table in the musty basement of the duplex where they lived. He sold his first magazine cover, a gray trout, to Southern Outdoors in 1964, followed by two more to Fur-Fish & Game in 1965.
These artistic skills coupled with his work in Wisconsin outdoor media led him to Virginia.
Ron Messina, who worked with Mr. Knuth at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, called him “not only an amazing artist, but a talented writer, too.”
“Many years ago, the ‘Outdoor Report’ newsletter he published and distributed was a roundup of everything happening in the outdoor conservation world. It was just like social media but years before social media existed,” Messina said.
“Spike was one of the guys I always looked up to at the department. He was an institution, a wealth of knowledge, and he’d lived a true outdoor life — in the duck swamps and the deer woods. Even though his hunting and fishing days were largely over, he enjoyed sharing stories about the old days and listening to the hunting adventures of the younger guys like me. He gave great advice on hunting and life,” Messina said.
Walker called Mr. Knuth a “gentle soul.”
“Spike’s job was very demanding, and he traveled thousands of miles each year covering the state. There was no such thing as a 9-to-5 job when it came to the work Spike did. He would often work from sunrise to sunset. However, I also quickly learned that his family and his faith meant everything to him, and they always came first in a job that was very demanding of his personal time,” Walker said.
Walker has two original Knuth paintings, a kingfisher and a pair of timberdoodles (woodcock), hanging over his fireplace. “I also commissioned him to do a painting of our family home in Pungo along the marsh of Back Bay,” he said, adding that painting was a gift to his parents on their 50th wedding anniversary.
“I remember on more than one occasion Spike would comment about his observations after spending days in the outdoors,” Walker said. “He was always quick to say, ‘Many peoplewill look, but few will ever see the real beauty in nature.’ That perhaps sums up one of Spike’s greatest contributions.
“Through his eyes and paintbrush, Spike gave a voice to wildlife and in return he gave back to the conservation movement in Virginia like few people have ever done. His dedication and passion for all things wild will be felt of generations to come.”
And, so, the artist comes to rest.