OUR “DING” DARLING
Cartoonist’s contributions again highlighted in February documentary
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.