During any early winter walk at twilight through the woods or along backwaters, the sensitive eye, looking through nearly bare limbs clutching dormant buds or berries silhouetted against leaden skies, picks up nature’s unpremeditated lacy designs. Spiky sweet gum balls, bushy willow twigs, the dogwood’s dried raisins, or last year’s leaves still clinging to the beeches imply game bird habitat into which Hagerbaumer sets autumn-colored ruffed grouse, woodcock, or wild turkey. To give visual structure to the painting, straight or tipping tree trunks soar past the picture frame. Depth of field is established by the whitish bark of aspen, the grooved hull of hickory, or ancient evergreens in the foreground becoming progressively fuzzy, then skeletal shadows of themselves as they fade into the distance.
Unlike other sporting artists, Hagerbaumer almost never includes human figures or their canine companions; he prefers portraying shacks, shanties, and hunting blinds, all gone now. In fact, in 1967, when he returned to his childhood haunts, the age-old wilderness had been replaced by high-priced summer homes. He also drew pages and pages of carefully labeled decoys by special carvers or from specific waters.
Author John Orrelle’s chapter named “Feathers Among Leaves” is very apt, for Hagerbaumer’s bobwhites and woodcock are never pictured among spring blossoms. Except for the occasional spring turkey, in Hagerbaumer’s world it’s perpetually autumn, maybe Indian summer, or weather heavy with winter long after the acorns have fallen.
Without his lifetime of experience as a hunter of game birds in wild places—especially waterfowl, especially brant in those last decades before interstate highways and real estate booms paved over the sportsman’s havens—there would be no David Hagerbaumer images, and won’t be again.
Without John Orrelle’s spontaneous generosity in sending Brooke Chilvers his two fine volumes, The Art of the Sporting Life and Sporting Images, there wouldn’t be this column about David Hagerbaumer. “I wish I’d come to write it sooner, and maybe at least spoken to the artist on the phone before he passed.”
All images courtesy of The Sportsman’s Gallery, Ltd., Charleston, South Carolina