Frank Stick

Prize Catch, by Frank Stick. All images courtesy of the coeur d’alene art auction, hayden, idaho.

The artist with an eye for real estate.

[by Brooke Chilvers]

SPORTING ARTIST AND ANGLER FRANK STICK(1884–1966) CUT A LIFE TRAIL full of twists and turns. It also crested and crashed, for Stick lost his shirt several times in ambitious real estate ventures in places with good fishing. Born in a railroad town in the Dakota Territory, he built a flourishing career illustrating and writing outdoor and adventure stories for America’s most popular magazines of the 1920s, only to throw down his oil brushes, swearing never again to paint for a paying client. Instead, he designed and developed a model ocean-to-bay subdivision on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Through it all, Frank fished: “Is there, in all of the sports of the out of doors, any sensation to compare with this heart tensing, all mastering feeling of elation that comes to the angler at that first strike of a noble quarry? . . . In my mind, the gods of the outof-doors have no gift to bestow, half so exhilarating as the smashing strike of a good fish.” A pioneer of surf fishing and bonefishing, he wrote at least 18 angling tales for Field & Stream, illustrating most of them, and a dozen articles for the prestigious Izaak Walton League Monthly (later named Outdoor America), which also used 13 of his oil paintings as covers. For one, he portrayed the hero of the serialized novelette, The Fisherman, by fellow member of the Long Key Fishing Club’s “Bonefish Brigade,” Western writer Zane Grey. (The original oil sold at auction in 2005 for $39,200.) Stick and his friend Zane “discovered” the Outer Banks, especially Cape Hatteras with its bluefish and channel bass fishing, and Frank soon started buying up property there.

In 1920, Stick hooked up with a 21-year-old silver-spoon angler named Van Campen Heilner, and together they wrote the first-ever book on the sport of surf angling, Call of the Surf, reprinted in 1924. Stick’s objective, he wrote, was “to afford some small entertainment to brother fishermen on those long evenings when the north wind howls and the winter’s sleet drives against the window pane; to attract a stranger to a sport . . . and to make somewhat smoother his trail to the Big-Sea Water.” But he only provided the artwork for Heilner’s often reprinted Adventures in Angling: A Book of Salt Water Fishing (1922).

King of the Pond, by Frank Stick. All images courtesy of the coeur d’alene art auction, hayden, idaho.

A generation later in his life, Stick picked up his paintbrushes again. This time he loaded them with sun- and surf-soaked watercolor pigments, after deciding to dedicate himself to depicting, academically but with artistic grace, all the fishes of his favorite seas, from the shores of the Carolinas through the Florida Keys and Cuba to the Virgin Islands, as well as the fine sport of catching them.

Ultimately, although greatly appreciated by the sportsmen of his era—in the same class as his contemporary Philip R. Goodwin (1881–1935), with whom Stick’s work is often compared or confused—Goodwin’s reputation has better endured. Stick remains overlooked, with the notable exceptions of Mike Mordell’s excellent Frank Stick: Splendid Painter of the Out-of-Doors (2003), and the lovely posthumous 1981 classic, An Artist’s Catch: Watercolors by Frank Stick, compiled by his son, noted Outer Banks author David Stick.