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Jim Rataczak Named 2021 BTT Artist of the Year

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is pleased to recognize Jim Rataczak as the 2021 Artist of the Year. Rataczak’s paintings reflect his passion for the natural world, especially birds and the scenic places they inhabit.

“I have known Jim for three decades, starting when he was relatively new at making a living painting,” said Bill Legg, who chairs the Artist of the Year Selection Committee. “Jim would send me paintings to get my thoughts on composition. Mostly I just bought them and now have more than a dozen. The Artist of the Year Committee thought that it would be an interesting change this year to feature a study of mangrove bird life. I find I spend more time watching our Florida birds when fishing than fishing.”

Born in 1965, Rataczak grew up on a lake in rural Minnesota. He began drawing at a young age, and even his earliest drawings and paintings were inspired by his experiences outdoors. Rataczak intended to study art in college, but found the academic world better suited to his strong interest in science. He earned a BS in Biology from the University of Notre Dame, and soon thereafter a master’s degree from the University of Michigan. Few who know Jim would be surprised that his graduate research focused on bird behavior.

Work for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Brookfield (IL) Zoo followed. Rataczak then received a fellowship from the historic Delta Waterfowl Research Station, located in the “pothole” country of the Canadian prairies. Here, Rataczak was immersed in a rich breeding ground of myriad birds, and these surroundings rekindled his lifelong passion for art. It wasn’t long before he realized he needed to make painting his life’s work.

Jim Rataczak’s painting, “Seven Spanish Angels—Snowy Egrets,” (oil on linen on board, 16″ by 27″) will be offered for sale at Copley’s Winter Sale 2021, which will take place virtually on February 19-20. There will also be an in-person preview in Charleston at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition on the weekend of February 13. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will benefit Bonefish & Tarpon Trust. Each year since 2011, Copley Fine Art Auctions has sold a new work by BTT’s Artist of the Year in support of the organization.

Rataczak returned from Canada driven to paint. While living in Chicago, he studied voraciously at the Field Museum of Natural History and the Art Institute of Chicago, and pursued birds up and down the shores of Lake Michigan. His zeal for field sketching took permanent hold at this time, and he discovered the work of such masters of the craft as Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Bruno Liljefors and Lars Jonsson.

“Lugging a spotting scope, sketchbook, paint, and pencils outside can be a lot of work,” said Rataczak. “But field sketching is the foundation of my work as a bird artist. It trains my eyes to see, and my hand to record, interesting shapes, colors, and events.”

In the 1990s, Rataczak and his wife moved back to Minnesota, and soon he began exhibiting his work professionally. His work has since garnered numerous awards, appeared in books and national publications, including The New York Times, and become part of collections across North America.

“My hope is that my work will encourage viewers to take a second look at the natural world, to make them want to be outside and deepen their own connections with nature,” said Rataczak.

Today, Rataczak, his wife and children, make their home north of St. Paul, Minnesota. Their home backs up to 1,000 acres of marsh, creek, woods, and fields, serving as inspiration for his work.