Wildlife artist Michael Sieve typically rises early—about 5:30 a.m. He and his wife will sip a cup of coffee, chit-chat a little and, on most summer mornings, take a long walk on their property—an area featuring acres of undulating woods and grasslands, through which a tiny trout stream gurgles and flows.
Sieve calls his homestead in extreme Southeastern Minnesota (Houston County) a wildlife Mecca, a landscape he draws inspiration from and that, with his own two hands, he’s constantly improving with tree plantings and other conservation work.
“I’m a wildlife artist, but I’m also a hunter and a conservationist at heart,” he said. “I don’t know which is more important. But my time in the field, whether I’m hunting, shooting photos or doing work on my property—all of it definitely informs my work and my paintings.”
Sieve, 64, has been a professional wildlife artist his entire adult life. He’s traveled the world accumulating reference material and inspiration, but he grew up in Wilmont, Minn., a small southwest farming community that’s also the setting for his Pheasants Forever Print of the Year (2015).
“The pheasant print for Pheasants Forever is, in my mind, actually a very simple painting,” said Sieve. “It’s a landscape I know well—it’s like reaching back into the roots of my past. I grew up not far from where the scene is. Unlike my other paintings, I didn’t need to do a lot of research to paint it. From the contour strips to the manmade shelterbelt to the pheasants, it’s all in my head.”
Sieve received his formal artistic training at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minn. He studied modern abstract, impressionistic and surreal methods of painting, though, he said, he didn’t go to college initially to become a wildlife artist.
“After high school, I wanted to go into advertising, but I flunked a college accounting course,” he said, laughing. “My accounting teacher, who knew I had an interest in painting, took me aside and gave me a little advice. He said I should be a painter.”
In fact, Sieve said, his instructor purchased one of his first paintings from a student art exhibit. “I think I was well on my way to becoming an artist, but his advice and encouragement gave me the confidence that I could actually be a painter and make a living at it.”
In 1984, Sieve said he “hit a home run”—he won the Oregon Duck Stamp contest, a feat he accomplished three times. “Winning that contest was really the first big thing that happened to me as an artist,” he said. “It really motivated me.”
Over the years, several organizations, including the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and the Minnesota Wildlife Federation, among others, recognized his talents and commissioned his work in limited-edition print programs. Once, over a ten-year period, he produced 38 oil paintings that were reproduced as limited editions, with most selling out. While he’s probably best known as a “deer artist,” Sieve’s collectable works include caribou, moose, song birds, waterfowl, turkeys and, of course, pheasants.
“Working with Mike for 40 years, we have seen hundreds of paintings come through our office and every one reflects his knowledge of being an avid, avid outdoorsman,” said Randy Eggenberger, president of Wild Wings in Lake City, Minnesota. “Hunters in particular relate to his work, saying, ‘I’ve been there before.’”
Eggenbeger said “conservation efforts are paramount for Mike, as he purposely practices land stewardship on all his lands.”
After coffee and chit-chat with his wife, Sieve typically retires to his 1,000-square-foot home studio and paints until late afternoon. He said his paintings, oil, all reflect a sense of place—not only the animal, but the landscape in which that animal lives.
“From an art point of view, the trend with many wildlife artists is to minimize detail, but that’s not what I do,” said Sieve. “I want to bring in detail, and that includes detailing the landscape. In doing so, that helps people better understand the animal.”
In the fall, Sieve hunts deer (mostly with a bow, his passion), but he also takes at least one trip to his old stomping grounds in southwest Minnesota to hunt pheasants with his six-year-old yellow Lab named Bella. He owns 60 acres, 40 of which were from his family’s original homestead.
“I don’t hunt pheasants as much as I used to, but I love going back and seeing old friends and just getting out on the prairie with my dog,” said Sieve. “For me, it’s sort of nostalgic. My father hunted a lot and was a great inspiration to me. I learned to be a conservationist by his example. He wasn’t a member of any conservation organizations, but he did a lot of work on his own, with his own two hands.”
Like father, like son.
Editor’s note: This fall, Sieve is hosting an open house for his new art gallery, Chisholm Valley Wildlife Art, at his home in Rushford. The open house runs over two weekends, on Sept. 5-6 and Sept. 12-13. As many as 30 original artworks will be on display, as well as numerous other prints. “It’s always been my dream to open a gallery,” said Sieve.
For more information about the open house and Sieve’s wildlife art, see www.michaelsieveart.com
“Shelterbelt Pheasants,” Pheasants Forever’s 2015-2016 Print of the Year, will be available at Pheasants Forever chapter banquets to help raise funds for upland conservation efforts. Hand signed & numbered “Shelterbelt Pheasants” prints (16”x24”) are also available in limited quantity (call toll free to order – 1-877-209-5353). Print of the Year greeting cards – in Season’s Greetings and blank – are available through the Pheasants Forever online store.
Story by Tori J. McCormick