The federal government late Thursday reinstated the 6-year-old winner of this year’s Junior Duck Stamp contest after earlier accusing her of plagiarism and rescinding her award.
In a statement issued Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed itself and said that last month’s judging was fair and that Madison Grimm, the youngest winner in history, should be reinstated.
“The service’s decision to reinstate Grimm’s work was made in recognition of the fact that her work was judged the winner during a fair and open public contest,” the agency said in a statement. “The service respects the decision of the contest judges, and apologizes for any distress this process may have caused the top-placing artists and their families, teachers and friends.”
That means 17-year-old Peter Coulter, who was the runner-up, then was declared the winner after Madison was disqualified, is now bumped back to second place again.
The agency’s decision came after inquiries from reporters, including The Washington Times, on the controversy.
The Fish and Wildlife Service had first awarded Madison the crown and the $5,000 prize on April 19, then rescinded it after other parents complained that her work was too good to have been done by a 6-year-old.
Madison’s father, Adam, is a nationally known wildlife artist, and the agency said Madison violated the contest rules by tracing one of his photos and then painting it. But Mr. Grimm said the rules didn’t prohibit that, and the Grimm family was backed up by a former duck stamp program chief who was involved in writing the rules and who said Madison’s entry appeared to be legitimate.
The federal agency’s decision prompted a heated debate in the wildlife art community, where many say the “graphite transfer” process Madison used is considered standard practice and has been used by other winners.
Duck stamp program chief Laurie M. Shaffer last week wrote a letter to the Grimms, who live in Burbank, S.D., saying she was disqualifying Madison in order preserve “the integrity and credibility of the program.”
“I am sure you are aware that there were questions about the ability of a 6-year-old to create such a polished and professional piece of art,” she said.
But Mr. Grimm told The Times that the agency never called to ask them any questions, and if it had, the family could have shown them photos of Madison working on the painting and described how she did the work herself.
Ms. Shaffer seemed to place responsibility for the decision on the South Dakota Junior Duck Stamp coordinator, April Gregory, saying a conversation Ms. Gregory had with Janet Grimm raised questions. But the Grimm family disputed that, saying the only conversation they had with Ms. Gregory came before the South Dakota judging and Ms. Gregory had been enthusiastic about Madison’s painting winning the state contest, which is what made her eligible for the national contest.
Ms. Gregory did not return three messages from The Times seeking comment.