Richmond Times-Dispatch

Mechanicsv­ille wildlife illustrato­r had an eye for the real beauty in nature

- BY KEN PERROTTE

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

OPINION

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.

‘Gentle Soul’mentor

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.

 ?? FAMILY PHOTO ?? Carl “Spike” Knuth’s paintings are prized possession­s.
FAMILY PHOTO Carl “Spike” Knuth’s paintings are prized possession­s.

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