Les C. Kouba Art
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It was said that Les Kouba was born in a winter storm, on a farm outside of Hutchinson, Minnesota on
February 3, 1917.
The world didn't have any idea what would be in store for this adventurous young boy wandering over the fields and looking at the sky to the sounds of migrating Canada geese in the spring and fall. His father taught him many of the little tricks in hunting, trapping and fishing. He learned to appreciate the joys of being in the outdoors early in life.
At a very early age Les Kouba started to draw. Probably on any thing he could find. These were the days when the countryside and the sky were filled with ducks, geese, fish, deer and other wildlife. It's said at the age of 8 Les Kouba knew he wanted to be an artist. At the age of 11, he sold his first painting to a wealthy German farmer for $8.00. Soon after that he was thinking of being an artist.
At age 14 he was enrolled in the Federal Schools, a correspondence school in Minneapolis, MN, where he developed a friendship with his instructors, learning the valuable lessons that life had to impress upon him. It's here that he met an instructor by the name of Walter J. Wilwerding, who would become a very large influence on his future art. You must learn how to draw before you start to paint, he told Les.
Having left formal schooling early, Les was about to take his life on the road to draw and paint. At age 16 his journey began. It consisted of painting trucks, signs, wall murals and anything that required paint, a brush and a steady hand. He was on the road exploring the sites to see and earning a living.
Some of his very best customers were individual Coca Cola bottlers where painted the logo on their trucks. He also painted the windows of drug stores that sold the the Coca Cola products. Word of mouth from one drug store owner to the next was the way he earned his way. After traveling over 39 of the 48 states, it was time to come home and settle down.
After returning home, Les met and married Orial, from Gibbon Minnesota, the woman who became his life partner and friend. As they settled into home life, Les was to begin the notoriety that he would learn to enjoy as the sportsmen of, not only Minnesota, but the world.
A job at Onan Corporation was the starting point in his employment in commercial art. Eventually Onan talked him into starting his own art business, Kouba Advertising Art. Later, Kouba's inventions, the Art-O-Graph projector and the Map-O-Graph projector, used to enlarge pictures and maps, lead to his success outside the art world. Both inventions have been sold around the world. In 1966 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) ordered one of each. It was assumed the projectors were being used in the preparation of lunar maps.
In keeping with Kouba's love of hunting he patented
a process for folding a paper goose decoy. This happened back in
He not only did calendar prints but magazine covers, for Sports Afield in the years October 1950, June 1963, September 1971, November 1967 and as 2 others. For a total of 6 Sports Afield covers. The 1950 cover he painted was a flock of bluebills in flight during a heavy snowstorm. Kouba loved doing this. His dream had been to do cover art for magazines. This was just the beginning. He also did a number of illustrations for the Minneapolis Star Tribune Picture Magazine. One example from the Picture Magazine is p. 13-14 from September 1968. (Used with permission of Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN. )
Later to his surprise he noticed that people were fascinated with the idea of an artist painting in front of a group. So he crisscrossed Minnesota putting on painting demonstrations for places and people like First Bank system, Northwestern National bank, the Elks, the Kiwanis and any other group that had an interest in seeing him paint. His willingness to do this was probably a very large factor in the success he enjoyed.
His work at Advertising Art included Red Owl, Ole Dutch potato chips, Watkins,
Schmidt Beer, Cola Cola,
and the list goes on. He did a series of wildlife paintings for the
Royal Stationery Company of Minneapolis. The put the scenes on their
stationary but also created prints of his paintings. This was a transition
point for his work from commercial art to fine art.
On an inspiration, he entered and won the the Federal Duck Stamp in 1958-1959
with Canada Geese, held by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He won again in 1967-68 with Old Squaws ducks. Read
more about his second
Federal Duck Stamp win. He
never entered the competition again.
I, Arlen Axdahl, was personally influenced by his art for the last 30 years. I've been spreading the
word about Les C. Kouba as the "Minnesota Sportsman" and "The Norman Rockwell of Minnesota."
Recently I received the photographs of Les Kouba displayed below. Two show him with some of his art
while the other photos, in color, show the artist with his work. They provide a human touch on the
Les Kouba is painting his famous watercolor, "The Live Log."