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Arkansas' George Purvis: renaissance manArkansas' George Purvis: renaissance man

April 21, 2006

3 Min Read

One of the pleasures of writing an outdoor column for Delta Farm Press is meeting old-timers, and the one thing that I take away from them all is their respect and love for the outdoors.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with an octogenarian from Little Rock. An artist, outdoor writer, conservationist, hunter, wildlife biologist, angler, photographer, speaker, TV host, Sunday schoolteacher, World War II veteran, and member of the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame (1994) — this is George Purvis.

When George was young, he began painting in watercolors. It's a love he hasn't forsaken, as he designed and painted the first Arkansas Trout Stamp. The drawing also appeared on the cover of the Arkansas Game and Fish magazine for the winter of 1970.

Moreover, for the Arkansas Bar Association, he does a watercolor for each outgoing president. He has done this for the past 10 years.

His outdoor writing career for Outdoor Life magazine lasted for seven years. He was paid $100 for each story.

As a wildlife biologist, he realized the need for informing and teaching Arkansas residents about the outdoors. His pulpit was the information office of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and his fishing and hunting television programs. He began working for the commission in 1951 and later became chief of the information and education division. Broadcast statewide every Thursday night, his outdoor program was shown on the public education network that was filmed in Conway, Ark.

He also has been a regular speaker for the last 42 years at the Rotary Club in Newport, Ark., speaking on conservation and outdoors. In addition, for 30 years, he has been a Baptist Sunday schoolteacher; something he truly loves.

In 1955, George met Wallace Claypool, who owned probably the most famous greentree reservoir in Arkansas: Wild Acres. He asked Claypool if he would allow him to shoot some movies of the ducks. After he agreed, George showed him the 35mm film. Claypool was overwhelmed and thus began a 10-year adventure of filming ducks in their natural habitat.

In January 1956, one of his photographs appeared in Sports Illustrated magazine. The caption read, “The most striking portrait in the U.S. last week came from an Arkansas reservoir where thousands of ducks heeded the herd instinct.” George estimated there were 500,000 ducks in the area.

Most of you have seen the Wild Acres Reservoir poster that is sold mainly through Mack's Sports Shop in Stuttgart, Ark. That photograph was shot December 1956. That same month, NBC's Wide Wide World show, hosted by Dave Garroway, came to Wild Acres to broadcast live an eight-minute segment of ducks exploding in front of the cameras. George was assigned the task of assisting the cameramen and corralling the ducks in front of the cameras.

Using drivers in boats, they began herding the ducks an hour and a half before the broadcast. At exactly 3:14 on Sunday afternoon, 300,000 ducks exploded into the air after Herb Parsons sent three blocks of TNT over the reservoir. Herb was the famous trapshooter and hunter from Somerville, Tenn.

I remember seeing this as a 12-year-old lad, sitting in front of our first television set. I'm not sure I breathed for the entire eight minutes. When the segment ended, Garroway remarked, “Now if you will brush the duck feathers off the sofa, we will go on with the rest of the program.”

George's other remarkable video is of Ben Pearson shooting ducks with bow and arrow at Wild Acres. After many attempts, he finally brought down a greenhead, with the arrow penetrating dead center into the duck. And then George's yellow lab, George Hilltop, retrieved the arrowed-mallard.

Deciding they had consumed too much film footage in shooting the greenhead, they staged the killing of two more mallards. As George says, “Every outdoor hunting video is staged to a great degree.” George Purvis is a true Renaissance Man!

Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to www.waterfowling.org. e-mail: [email protected]

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