Monday, September 5, 2005

Drawing inspiration from Suisun Marsh, artist's work featured on state hunting license

From Daily Republic // Monday, Sept. 5, 2005
By Barry Eberling

SUISUN CITY - Rich Radigonda finds inspiration for his creative side amid the solitude of remote Suisun Marsh wetlands.

The 67-year-old sold his Walnut Creek auto repair business seven years ago and became a full-time artist. His studio is on his Suisun Marsh duck club - in a second-story room overlooking Grizzly Bay, wetlands and tules. As many as 200 egrets sometimes flock to a nearby canal.

Otters live in the waterways.

"This is why I had to have this place," he said. "The view was everything. It's definitely a place to work."

Every duck hunter in California will see one of his most recent works. He won the contest for the soon-to-be-issued 2005 state duck stamp.

Duck hunters must buy the stamp from the state Department of Fish and Game for $13.50 and put it on their hunting licenses. Collectors also buy them. Money goes toward wetlands programs. Radigonda said the state sells about 75,000 stamps overall.

His winning duck stamp painting depicts a pintail drake taking flight, its legs kicking up the water near a clump of the plant called Swamp Timothy. Three other ducks fly against a blue sky with white clouds.

It's a scene out of Suisun Marsh - or is it? The foothills in the background could be either the nearby Mount Diablo range or the Sutter Buttes in far-away Colusa County. The eucalyptus and oak trees fit in with lots of places. This is no particular duck hunting ground and a little bit of all of them.

"Since it was for California, I tried to make it fit more than one area," said Radigonda, who lives in Benicia.

So Suisun Marsh provided the atmosphere for painting, not the particulars of Radigonda's duck stamp entry.

Radigonda has long been interested in both waterfowl and art. As an 8-year-old growing up in San Francisco, he built a raft to get a closer look at the ducks on the bay at Hunters Point. He wanted to draw them.

He and a friend ended up a quarter-mile from shore and unable to return. A passing boater rescued them.

His father introduced him to duck hunting, as well took him to auto races and air shows. Ducks, planes and race cars are three of Radigonda's main painting topics.

Radigonda has hunted on Suisun Marsh for decades. He can remember when people crossed Montezuma Slough on a slow-moving ferry powered by a Ford Model A motor, long before a bridge got built there. In 1998, he bought a 56-acre duck club amid this 115,000-acre, state-protected area.

Like all Suisun Marsh duck clubs, Radigonda's land is behind levees. He floods and drains the land at certain times of the year, growing brass buttons, fat hen and other plants that waterfowl like to eat.

It's a big job for one man. Unlike most duck club owners, Radigonda isn't motivated primarily by hunting.

"I don't shoot a lot of ducks out here," he said. "It's really used more for my artwork."
He first tried to win a duck stamp contest in 1984, but placed fourth for the Nevada stamp. He's tried about 10 times overall, tying for first for the California stamp in 1993, but ultimately losing.

"You strive for something, you wonder if it is ever going to happen," Radigonda said.

Now he's got the winner.

He's moving on to his next painting. The inspiration comes from his days with the U.S. Navy during the 1950s, when he worked on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga.

Radigonda helped with the catapults that allow jet planes to take off on the short runways. Steam-powered pistons pulled the planes across the decks to hasten their acceleration. The plane accelerated from 0 mph to 130 mph in two seconds.

This painting of the airplane catapult will be almost a self-portrait, Radigonda said. He won't be recognizable in it, but it's a scene from his past.

People can view and purchase Radigonda's work at his Web site at

Radigonda has wanted to draw and do artwork since he was a child. But his high school didn't offer much art instruction. As an adult, his creative urges often took a back seat to the need to earn a living. Retirement changed that.

"I'm free to create what I want to and create whenever I want to," Radigonda said.

And Suisun Marsh provides the atmosphere.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or

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