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A Sussex County Artist and Milford Craft Brewery Team Up for Conservation

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Mispillion River Brewing asked artist Richard Clifton to create an image of red knot shorebirds, below, for the label of a beer the company brewed to help raise money for conservation./Courtesy of Richard Clifton

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Richard Clifton’s talent for creating realistic waterfowl art has garnered attention for nearly three decades.

Until now, that attention has come from collectors. Soon, it will also come from beer drinkers.

One of Clifton’s paintings—an image of the endangered red knot shorebird (not a waterfowl)—will grace the label of a new Mispillion River Brewing beer can.

It’s a first, both for the artist and the Milford-based craft brewing company.

Lauren Bigelow, Mispillion River Brewing’s sales and marketing “ninja”—yes, that’s her real title—says the concept evolved when folks from the Delaware Ornithological Society (DOS) stopped in to chat about the group’s efforts to conserve the red knots who flock to Mispillion River Harbor every year.

Thousands of the shorebirds, listed as threatened on the federal endangered species list, stop to feed on horseshoe crab eggs on nearby Delaware Bay beaches each spring as part of their migratory journey from South America to Canada.

Red Knot Shore Bird Painting by Richard Clifton

Clifton’s painting of the endangered red knot shorebird (above) will grace the label of a new Mispillion River Brewing beer can./Courtesy of Richard Clifton

Brewery owner Eric Williams and COO Ryan Maloney wanted to help the conservation mission by brewing a beer, in this case a red IPA, to raise funds for additional land purchases.

“Ryan Maloney is an incredibly big fan of Rich’s work,” Bigelow says. “When the DOS initially approached [Clifton] on our behalf, the idea that he would even consider working with us was one of the greatest honors we’ve ever received. We asked that he create a red knot for the label and model it after his usual artwork. This label truly stands apart for its artistry and beauty.”

Clifton’s creativity is fueled by his passion for the environment—and by geography: His family farm is adjacent to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

The self-taught Clifton started his career by painting at night after days spent working on the family farm. About 30 years ago, he stepped away from farming and picked up his paintbrushes full time. Since then, he’s become well known for 51 duck stamps and as the Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year in 2015, 2018 and 2019. That most recent award was an unprecedented back-to-back honor from the nonprofit dedicated to wetland and waterfowl habitat preservation.

Richard Clifton Waterfowl Art Richard Clifton Fox Painting

Some of Clifton’s work./Courtesy of Richard Clifton

“His unique wildlife art has raised more than $8 million at fundraising events across the country,” says Jane Lawson, the organization’s art and merchandising manager.

“The money has gone a long way in helping Ducks Unlimited conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North American waterfowl.”

These days, Clifton’s subjects extend to a five-part Christmas series, other wildlife and commissioned dog paintings.

While his oeuvre has expanded, Clifton’s waterfowl have stood the test of time.

“Not everybody can paint a duck,” he says. “[The paintings] end up selling, and that’s what I’m in the business to do,” he says.

Yet even with all the laurels, there’s still the lure of the wide expanse of tillable acreage adjacent to his backyard. Clifton scans his farmland and admits that “maybe someday I’ll go back.”

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