Experience the story behind Terry Redlin’s greatest artistic works
South Dakota’s Golden Child: The Art of Terry Redlin at Redlin Art Center in Watertown
There are art museums. And then there’s the Redlin Art Center. Perched on 30 acres of prairie grasses and wetlands, this majestic shrine invites travelers along Interstate 29 to come stretch their legs and their imaginations. Artist Terry Redlin wass one of the world’s most prolific and famous wildlife artists, born and raised right in Watertown. At his center, you’ll find time to relax, reflect and appreciate each of Terry’s 160 original oil paintings.
It's worth a few hours to fully explore the gift shop, grounds and gallery. So, for a quicker read, we’ve shared eight highlights to see as you spend a day meeting the man behind the canvas.
The Cocker Spaniel
Did you know Terry’s wildlife works started with a dog and a rabbit? In the Early Art Room, you can see Terry’s childhood sketches, including a Bugs Bunny drawing (made at age 6) and a cocker spaniel he sketched during college for an instructor. After reviewing the sketch, the instructor said, “There is nothing I can teach this kid about drawing. He has more talent than any student I have ever taught or ever will teach.”
Comforts of Home
One of his most famous works, “Comforts of Home,” depicts a rustic, lakeside cabin framed by a vibrant orange sunset. It’s a prime example of Terry’s signature style – shadowy scenes complemented by the warm glow of dawn or dusk. Alongside the painting, you can visit a physical re-creation of this cabin, complete with stone fireplace and cozy front porch.
The Sketch Room
In his early years, Terry worked as a sketch artist, drawing art for the backs of playing cards. This job also gave him access to original works from Norman Rockwell and John Klimer, which he studied up close. In the Sketch Room, you can see these influences collide as you observe nearly 50 original pencil drawings that set the foundation for many of his paintings.
In 1977, Terry sold his first two prints – for $10 each. Later that year, he experienced his first breakthrough moment when “Winter Snows” was featured on the cover of The Farmer magazine. Depicting a flock of geese flying over a frozen field, it’s easy to see how he drew inspiration from South Dakota scenery around him, no matter the season.
Lights of Home
Terry used hundreds of small memories to influence his art, like how his humble childhood home had a single light in each room. “Lights of Home” harkens back to this memory, with a glowing light in each window of a cozy, family farmhouse. Known as “romantic realism,” the style of Terry’s work is meant to be less photographic and more rooted in places, people and moments he’s known. Once you see the painting, you can’t help but think of your own fond memories of going home for the holidays.
Terry was just as dedicated to saving and preserving wildlife environments as he was to painting them. That’s why he donated 2,400 prints of “Morning Retreat” to Ducks Unlimited, raising more than a million dollars for the conservation of upland habitats.
America the Beautiful
One of Terry’s largest projects was “America the Beautiful,” an eight-painting collection representing American ideals like freedom, family and optimism. “It is a tribute to a country I love dearly and that has treated me so well,” Terry said. From spacious skies to purple mountain majesties, each work is inspired by a line from the song, using our great American frontier as its backdrop.
A Living Painting in Conservation Park
After admiring Terry’s work, you can explore perhaps his greatest in-progress creation – the gardens, trails and grasslands that surround the Redlin Art Center. Known as Conservation Park, the grounds are home to prairie grasses, wildflowers, pheasants, geese and more. They’re a great homebase for a picnic lunch, playtime with the kids, and a little birding.