Darkness has long since fallen, and two hunters huddle near a campfire, awaiting the return of their missing companions.
Behind them, framed between a rising moon and the flickering flames, a canoe approaches. The men are weary and the hour is late. But with them is their trophy: the antlers of a bull moose.
The story was first told in 1920, when artist Frank Stokes painted Evening at Moose Camp, which today is part of the Robert B. Mayo sporting art collection on display at the Morris Museum of Art.
The painting tells the story of the hunt, the wounding shot, the hours of trailing and the eventual recovery of a creature for which the hunters hold great respect -- and reverence.
The storytelling aspect of such paintings is but one facet of the fascination Mayo finds with fishing and hunting art spanning two centuries.
"A lot of these illustrations are storytelling paintings, which is fine art in its own sense," said Mayo, who was a hunter and angler long before he became a collector of sporting art.
"I'm from a hunting and fishing family," he said. "I got my first firearm when I was 10, and I'm 66 now. We used to guide bird hunters in Virginia and I guided for duck and goose, too. But my first love is fishing."
Mayo's broad collection ranges from classic paintings of the early 1800s to fishing and hunting scenes of the 1950s. His exhibit, entitled The Sporting View, includes 45 of his favorites.
There is something special about each work, whether it's the thrill of trout in a mountain stream, the excitement of a covey flush or the rise of mallards off a winter pond.
Many of Mayo's paintings also have their own intriguing mysteries.
Evening at Moose Camp, for example, was acquired in California. Mayo now suspects one of the hunters in the painting is a young Bing Crosby.
"At this point, it's hearsay," he said. "We haven't been able to pin it down. But we think it was done when Bing was moose hunting in Alaska, and it shows him smoking his pipe."
Another of Mayo's favorites, Tying on the Fly, depicts a confident, bespectacled gentleman preparing to go fishing. He is tying a trout fly onto his line. And he is wearing a tie.
The scene was painted as a cover illustration for the April 1933 issue of National Sportsman magazine. Although it is signed "Fulmer," the artist's full name and identify remain unknown.
"I call it `unknown artist' at this time," Mayo said. "We've even blown the signature up to one-foot by two-feet to study it. But we can't find any illustrator who was doing covers in those years named Fulmer."
Mayo, of Gloucester, Va., has a long career as a collector, museum curator, historian and art dealer. "But I've had a love affair with fishing and hunting all my life."
The collection at the Morris Museum will be on display through Jan. 7, 2001, and is expected to attract many first-time visitors -- especially people who enjoy fishing and hunting.
"You don't have to know about Picasso to enjoy this exhibit," said Patty Moore, the museum's curator of education. "I think the subject matter is very different from anything we've done before. It will appeal to people in our community who love hunting and fishing."
In conjunction with the sporting art exhibit, the museum also will display its collection of early duck stamp art, dating mainly to the period from 1934 to 1968. The museum owns more than 300 such prints.
What: The Sporting View, a collection of hunting and fishing scenes.
Where: Morris Museum of Art, 1 Tenth Street, downtown Augusta.
When: Through Jan. 3, 2001.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sundays. Closed Mondays and holidays. Free admission on Sundays.
General reception: Thursday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., admission is $5 for non-members and $3 for student non-members.
Sporting Art Sundays: Oct. 22 and Dec. 10 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., with special displays and family activities celebrating hunting and fishing. Free admission.
More information: 724-7501.
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