Winter Willow—Northern Shrike


Jim Rataczak

A small strip of woods behind his boyhood home in Minnesota provided the surroundings in which Jim Rataczak (pronounced “RAT-a-check”) began his life as a naturalist and artist. As birds became an increasingly common subject in his artwork, Jim learned of the work of several Minnesota wildlife painters, especially that of Ron Van Gilder, Gary Moss, and David A. Maass, and marveled at the incredible animal diorama backgrounds Francis L. Jaques had painted at the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. With a degree in biology in 1987 followed by a masters degree, Jim assumed he was on his way to a career in biology. However, a summer Fellowship at the Delta Waterfowl Research Station in Manitoba, Canada, exposed Jim to Delta’s rich artistic heritage and he realized that he wanted to get back into painting. Jim zealously pursued his art, taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, and learning bird anatomy at the Field Museum of Natural History. This direct approach to study and painting was further cemented as Jim began studying the work of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Bruno Liljefors, and Lars Jonsson. In 1993, Jim and his wife Joan moved back to Minnesota, where Jim continued his studies, and exhibited his work. Today his work can be found in galleries and private collections across North America.

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Many times I've watched and sketched shrikes in their winter hunting territories. The bird's plumage, crisply patterned but softly edged, is a perfect reflection of the stark, winter landscape. The winter can be hard, but somehow the bird perseveres.