Meadowlark Gallery: The Artist Biographies

Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling (1876-1962)
Jay Darling is noted for his political cartooning, primarily for the Des Moines Register, his superb wildlife and sporting drawings, and as the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes. Conservation was his co-career, and he was an early, tireless advocate of conservation and the effects of environment on humans and wildlife. Darling succeeded in lobbying successfully for six-million dollars in federal funds toward what later became the Federal Duck Stamp Program, and his design of two mallard ducks served as the first art in this series. He also founded the National Wildlife Federation and became its first president.

Jay Norwood Darling was born in Norwood Michigan, from which his middle name is derived, in 1876. He spent much of his youth from age ten in Sioux City, Iowa, when that Missouri River town was a gateway to unspoiled prairies. His childhood days were spent exploring the expansive prairies of Nebraska and South Dakota and the banks of the Missouri River where his lifelong devotion to conservation began. As soon as he was old enough, Darling hired himself out to herd cattle across the South Dakota plains.

College began badly for Darling when he and some friends "borrowed" the president's horse and buggy for an evening of revelry. He was dismissed from Yankton College in South Dakota in 1894 and began again at Beloit College in Wisconsin the following year. Darling planned to study medicine, the natural outgrowth of his interest in biological systems. Although he applied himself in the life sciences, his major focus at Beloit became his job as art editor for the college yearbook. Darling's irreverent cartoons of Beloit's faculty earned him another suspension, but he returned for his senior year and graduated in 1900. In spite of his escapades, his biology professor, who taught him to view the world as a complete system and always frame it in ecological terms, forever influenced Darling. As yearbook art director at Beloit College, Darling first used the signature D'ing, a contraction of his last name that he said was a way to "conceal his identity."

Upon his graduation in 1900, Darling accepted a job as a cub reporter with the Sioux City Journal in order to save money to enter medical school. It was there, however, that his career as a political cartoonist blossomed, beginning with a story he ran accompanied by a sketch of the story's character - a local recalcitrant attorney who refused to have his photograph taken for the piece, and both Darling and his camera were assaulted. His cartooning career had begun, and was to last fifty years, after producing some 15,000 newspaper cartoons.

An affable, dynamic, and talented man, Darling in 1906 married Genevieve Pendleton, and together they had two children, John and Mary. Were it not for the surgery in 1919 that restored the full use of his right arm and hand, Darlings drawing could have ended as a result of a worsening injury suffered years before as a youth in a fall from a horse.

Known to read six newspapers a day, he created cartoons that covered the gamut of current events from local to international, but he would often caricature environmental and conservation issues including the demands of a growing population and wasteful natural-resource consumption. His interest in conservation was kindled at a young age by the principles of Theodore Roosevelt, a man he admired and one of the several Presidents Darling knew and visited. His first conservation cartoon was published during Teddy Roosevelts first term as president in 1901 in support of Roosevelts campaign for establishment of a forestry service.

An arch Republican, Darling refused to succumb to the strong pleas for his candidacy as U.S. Senator from Iowa. When away from the drawing board his interest continued to be conservation: promoting the establishment of the Iowa Fish and Game Commission and becoming an original member; establishing the nation's first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Iowa State University with a personal pledge of $9000 for start-up costs; arranging with noted ecologist Aldo Leopold for a complete and unprecedented biological survey of Iowa, preparatory to making a 25-year conservation plan; and advising the federal government on hunting seasons and shooting limits for waterfowl.

It was after he joined the Des Moines Register as a cartoonist in 1906, that he began signing his cartoons with his nickname Ding - derived by combining the first initial of his last name with the last three letters. By the time he achieved his fame at the Des Moines Register in the centurys first decade, hed dropped the apostrophe, and Ding stood alone.

Although he worked in New York briefly, the experience confirmed his affection for the Midwest and he returned to Des Moines. He stayed there for the rest of his life, even after accepting in 1916 a syndication deal with the New York Tribune, later to become the Herald Tribune, for whom he worked until 1949. He became thereby one of the first editorial cartoonists to be nationally distributed and famous from coast to coast but he did it from the middle of Iowa. As a top-ranking political cartoonist syndicated in 130 daily newspapers, Darling reached an audience of many millions with cartoons noted for their wit and political satire. He was awarded Pulitzer prizes in 1923 and 1942, and in 1934 was named the best cartoonist by the country s leading editors.

Conservation and politics were Darling's abiding passions. Concerned with pollution and extinction of wildlife, he worked these themes into his cartoons. An avid hunter and fisherman himself, Darling used his cartoons to emphasize that regulations governing these sports should observed. As a conservationist, he believed that people could benefit from nature without damaging it.

Although Ding was a staunch Republican, in July 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Darling to head the U.S. Biological Survey. For twenty whirlwind months the nation's wildlife was in his charge when he served as chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey in the Department of Agriculture, predecessor agency to the current Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior. During his short tenure, Darling shook up the sleepy agency with staff overhauls, vigorous law enforcement, reliance on the scientific method, and an infusion of funds it had not seen before.

In this capacity, Darling battled for greater national attention and expenditures for conservation. He was responsible for securing some $17 million for wildlife habitat restoration, established the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, and made great strides toward bringing hunters and conservationists together. He also pioneered leadership in the field of proper game management. He paved the way for expanding Cooperative Wildlife Research in colleges and influenced passage of firearms and ammunition surtaxes by gaining support from the manufacturers. When he was asked, he agreed to do the artwork for the first Duck Stamp, now a valuable collector's item.

The Federal Duck Stamp Program, which he initiated, uses the proceeds from the sale of duck hunting stamps to purchase wetlands for waterfowl habitat. Largely responsible for the establishment of the network of game refuges in the country today, Darling was called the best friend ducks ever had. He liked to remind over-zealous developers that ducks couldnt lay eggs on picket fences.

To the disappointment of newspaper editorial pages, Darling resigned after 20 months as Bureau of Biological Survey chief to return to the Des Moines Register and to make conservation a way of life through federating the thousands of wildlife conservation groups. He returned to drawing cartoons and influencing conservation policy though his political statements and his work with the Wildlife Federation. Darling began the General Wildlife Federation (now the National Wildlife Federation) and was elected its first president, but he failed to unite the nation's conservationists. He urged FDR to call the first North American Wildlife Conference in 1936, a national event that is still held annually.

From 1935, Darling, who surprisingly suffered from asthma and a poor heart, spent time on Captiva Island, where he and his wife built their isolated Fish House on piers complete with drawbridge. He played active roles in establishing the refuge later named for him on Sanibel Island and National Key Deer Refuge on Florida's lower keys. Through the efforts of his island neighbors and the J.N. Ding Darling Foundation, the refuge was created on Sanibel Island from land donated by concerned citizens and land acquired by the federal government. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge has protected habitat for wildlife since 1945. One of Dings favorite bird-watching locations, it was renamed in Jay Norwood Darlings honor and officially dedicated to him in 1978.

Shortly after Darlings death in 1962, the J.N Ding Darling Conservation Foundation was founded to perpetuate his ideals. The foundation concentrates its resources on major educational efforts, such as the Ding Darling Scholarship program at Iowa State University and other campuses across the country.

The Ding Darling Wildlife Society works in cooperation with the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife refuge to supply educational materials and programs to visitors.

Darling's art reflects issues still important today. For example, feeling that every candidate for public office should pledge to conserve wildlife, he drew a "Don t say it - Sign it" cartoon for the 1938 congressional campaign, a cartoon that has been widely reprinted ever since. Thanks to Darling, much natural habitat has been protected across the United States. This was largely due to the enlargement of the National Wildlife Refuge system and to the enduring success of the Federal Duck Stamp Program

Ding drew with a brush but drew very, very large, and the resulting pictures usually looked as if he had penned them into existence. The line was hectic and vitally alive, and it suited perfectly the bent Ding frequently indulged for
pictorial hilarity. In this penchant for humor in his cartoons, Ding was nearly unique in the first decades of the century.

He also was the author of Ding Goes to Russia (1931) and The Cruise of the Bouncing Betsy (1937).

Jay Norwood Darling died in 1962. He was 85 years old.
View high resolution images of works by Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling when available.