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Celebrating Darling: An excerpt from The Prints of J.N. Darling

Posted on July 24, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Jami Milne

J. N. Darling, far left, with friends sailing in Florida, n.d. Courtesy of the Christopher “Kip” Koss Archive.


First Edition

"It is our pleasure at the Brunnier Gallery and Iowa State University to present this comprehensive exhibition of Jay N. Darling’s wildlife etchings.

Many Iowans and other Midwesterners already know the name “Ding” Darling as a household word associated with the Des Moines Register. His editorial cartoons both shocked and kidded his audience into an awareness of the issues of the day. As the artist explained: “Every cartoon should contain a little medicine, a little sugarcoating and as much humor as the subject will bear.”

Darling is also well known as a conservation leader to a vast audience of outdoors and wildlife enthusiasts. He designed the first Federal Duck Stamp and the “flying goose” symbol (Fig. 3) that marks every federal wildlife refuge in the U.S. He became head of the U.S. Biological Survey under Franklin D. Roosevelt. And in 1960 he received the Audubon Medal for his conservation efforts.

Iowa State University bene ted in a very personal way from Darling’s strong convictions, as he began a wildlife research program here in 1932. The first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit was born and became a model for the 50 additional units created since that time. In addition, the J. N. “Ding” Darling Foundation (now dissolved), created following Darling’s death, established three annual scholarships at ISU designed to sharpen the writing ability of students planning to enter conservation work."



"Jay N. Darling made at least 84 etchings, photoetchings, aquatints, and drypoints between 1925 and 1960. Publicly known to the world as “Ding” (a contraction of Darling), he was an editorial cartoonist of great wit and fine pictorial ability who won two Pulitzer Prizes. Through his syndicated cartoons, he had a national audience and was one of the first mass-media celebrities in an era before network radio and television. A man of keen intelligence and unbelievable energy, he was the leading ecologist and conservationist of his generation, and although a loyal Republican, he served in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration as head of the U.S. Biological Survey. He also designed the first Federal Duck Stamp. A prolific letter writer, he was well-read and held rm opinions on thousands of topics. Active in local community affairs, he was a world traveler with an international outlook.

Privately, he had doubts about his talent as an artist. His lack of formal training gave him a feeling of inferiority which he expressed by criticizing art schools and contemporary art. He claimed that his accomplishments were the result of pure hard work, a virtue that he heartily recommended to others. His work as an etcher filled an important role in his personal creative life. His substantial body of work in this medium was the product of a deeply involved artist. Etching allowed Darling to truly become an artist – one who worked in a fully “respectable” medium, unlike cartooning. Darling’s etchings were almost never cartoons, ephemeral, old the next day. Etching gave Darling the opportunity to preserve thoughts in a permanent and serious visual context and in a medium with its own forms and traditions. The subject matter of his prints dealt almost exclusively with wildlife, hunters, and fishermen. He began to etch about the time when his thinking on ecology became focused and impelled him to activism. Darling was not interested in the cause of migratory waterfowl conservation solely to provide more ducks for hunters. On the contrary, he worked for the enforcement of limitations, and perceived waterfowl as delicate indicators of the state of health of the entire ecosystem upon which human existence and survival depends."

Darling at his drawing board. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register archives.


Third Edition

"Though most of Darling’s etchings were created in the 1930s and 1940s, his expression through fine art speaks to today’s citizenry as we continue to evolve into a more environmentally conscious society. Today, we are fortunate to bene t from the many legacies of Darling including the Federal Duck Stamp Program, wildlife research units at universities, and National Wildlife Refuges.

Telling the Jay N. Darling story remains an important part of University Museums’ educational goals through exhibitions, programs and scholarship. Though there are many stories yet to tell, this publication certainly merits a third edition to illustrate the Darling who many never knew, the fine artist with a profound dedication to the natural world."

The Prints of J.N. Darling, a 208 page soft cover publication including over 150 images.
PRICE: $27.50
Purchase online here or Pay by Phone (Credit Cards only): 515.294.3342

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