OUR “DING” DAR­LING

Car­toon­ist’s con­tri­bu­tions again high­lighted in Fe­bru­ary documentary

RSWLiving - - Features - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT

A documentary pro­fil­ing Iowa vol­un­teers sal­vaging a dy­ing lake pre­mieres Feb. 9 at the Sani­bel wildlife refuge named in honor of the film’s cen­tral fig­ure, Jay Nor wood Dar­ling.

Adocumentary film about the on­go­ing in­flu­ence of Jay Nor­wood Dar­ling will pre­miere on Sani­bel. The film tells the story of restor­ing to health a dy­ing lake in Iowa. The 9,600-acre Lake Dar­ling’s name hon­ors the na­tional car­toon­ist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist whose con­tri­bu­tions still im­pact South­west Florida.

Dar­ling is Back!: The Restora­tion of Lake Dar­ling shows Thurs­day, Feb. 9, at the J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. The film’s cre­ator, Sam Koltin­sky, says, “Dar­ling was a very, very in­ter­est­ing man. I’m hon­ored to be part of his legacy.”

For most of us, our im­pact fades. Only a select few keep rel­e­vant. Jay Nor­wood “Ding” Dar­ling has such a legacy, partly for his news­pa­per car­toons and bit­ing po­lit­i­cal opin­ion, but more for his work in pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can wet­lands. Part of the land that is now the J.N. “Ding” Dar­ling Wildlife Refuge on Sani­bel, for in­stance, was to be de­vel­oped un­til he in­ter­vened. Dar­ling was di­rec­tor of the fed­eral Bu­reau of Bi­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, fore­run­ner of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice, which to­day over­sees some 600 mil­lion acres of fed­eral wet­lands and ma­rine mon­u­ments.

Words of Jay Nor­wood “Ding” Dar­ling: “Out West we have to get our seafood canned. But rather canned seafood and fresh friend­ships than canned friend­ships and fresh seafood!”

In 1936, Dar­ling founded what has be­come the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion. He was be­hind a fed­eral pro­gram to sell duck hunt­ing stamps and use the pro­ceeds to pur­chase and pro­tect wet­lands. Dar­ling’s art­work was on the first fed­eral Duck Stamp. He also trav­eled widely, pen­cil­ing beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated di­aries. For many win­ters, Dar­ling lived on Cap­tiva in a con­verted fish house; art icon Robert Rauschen­berg pur­chased the home that stands to this day.

Dar­ling was a buzz saw of cu­rios­ity and mo­tion—―vis­it­ing Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and cap­tur­ing with art­work the Mex­i­can peas­ants he ob­served, for ex­am­ple. He died in 1962, leav­ing a trove of his draw­ings, di­aries and writ­ings. His work is dis­played to­day in pub­lic ex­hibits show­ing the “raw­ness of his char­ac­ter,” says Koltin­sky.

Koltin­sky first doc­u­mented Dar­ling in America’s Dar­ling: The Story of Jay N. “Ding” Dar­ling, in 2012. The film por­trayed “Ding” (a con­trac­tion Dar­ling used to sign his name—―D’ing) Dar­ling’s con­tri­bu­tions via his grand­son, Christo­pher Koss. Koss also do­nated his grand­fa­ther’s books, di­aries and art tools to Koltin­sky, who uses Dar­ling’s paint­brushes in his Brush of Ex­cel­lence awards that rec­og­nize land stew­ards. A year ago, Collin O’Mara, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion, stated: “As Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion founder ‘Ding’ Dar­ling fa­mously said, ‘We must speak for wildlife be­cause they can’t speak for them­selves.’ ”

Jay Nor­wood Dar­ling was born in Michi­gan but lived in Iowa. He be­came a news­pa­per car­toon­ist around 1900, lam­poon­ing with a Mid­west­ern sen­si­bil­ity those he saw abus­ing oth­ers. He was es­pe­cially harsh on such places as New York City: “What, for in­stance,” he wrote in a 1919 es­say, “do folks in New York do when they wake up in the morn­ing burst­ing with the im­pulse to say ‘Hello’ to some­body? ... When the un­con­trol­lable de­sire to be so­cia­ble comes on, you write or tele­phone, and a week from next Tues­day you meet for the avowed pur­pose of de­liv­er­ing your erst­while spon­ta­neous out­bursts of greet­ings. It’s like open­ing a bot­tle of sparkling bur­gundy to drink week af­ter next.”

Koltin­sky’s new documentary re­counts a $16 mil­lion restora­tion of Lake Dar­ling in Brighton, Iowa, which is due south of Iowa City. The film is an oblique trib­ute to Dar­ling—―it’s more about the peo­ple restor­ing the lake than the legacy of the car­toon­ist. Dar­ling, Koltin­sky ex­plains, was “a vi­sion­ary far be­yond his times.” The film will be open to the pub­lic.

“To truly un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate the man, Jay N. ‘Ding’ Dar­ling, one should take time to learn about his art­work through his sketches, logs and jour­nals. Sam [Koltin­sky] and I will be pro­duc­ing a book which will be a col­lec­tion of some of these never-be­fore-seen trea­sures.”

—An­drea Koss, widow of Christo­pher “Kip” Koss

Sketch (top) drawn by car­toon­ist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Jay Nor­wood “Ding” Dar­ling, ti­tled Post Sea­son Flir­ta­tion. Dar­ling (be­low) work­ing at his desk.

Lake Dar­ling (top) in Iowa was nursed to health by ar­dent lo­cals.

A film pre­mier­ing on Sani­bel por­trays the group’s work. Sam Koltin­sky (bot­tom) has made two films on Pulitzer win­ner Dar­ling.

Lake Dar­ling (top) com­prises 9,600 acres. A trav­el­ing ex­hibit (bot­tom left) about the famed car­toon­ist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. Dar­ling (bot­tom right) waves from a gate at Lake Dar­ling in 1950.

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