In todays post, I will talk about the legendary wildlife artist Maynard Reece. Still strong and sharp at 96 years of age, Maynard consented to a series of interviews this past week and through these, I gained some insights for our story. As with Ding Darling, there have been numerous accounts written about Maynard’s life and, once again, I found the details often varied. Maynard and his son, Brad, were kind enough to clarify many of these points for me.
We shall take a look at Maynard’s early career, his association with Ding Darling and some of his early achievements. I also want to explain how art was chosen for the federal waterfowl stamp prior to the federal “duck” stamp contest, then explain the origins of the contest itself. We have a lot of ground to cover, so grab some coffee.
Early Life and Career
Maynard Reece was born on April 26, 1920 to Waldo and Inez Reece in Arnolds Park, located on Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. Maynard was the youngest of four children and his father, like Jay Darling’s, was a minister. In Waldo’s case, for the Friends (or Quaker) Church.
Maynard spent the first ten years of his life in Arnolds Park, much of it outdoors. A neighbor showed him how to collect butterflies when he was only three of four years old and Maynard “got very good at it”. He began to study their flight patterns and this evolved into studying ducks and fish. Maynard also caught his first fish, a bluegill, with a cane pole when he was three. He especially liked to be in, on or near the water.
He soon began drawing and painting, with pencils and barn paints, mainly ducks and other animals. He then started hunting ducks (at first with a slingshot) and fishing. His early interest in ducks and wildlife allowed him to see the need for conservation at at a particularly young age.
The northwestern Lake Okoboji area was at one time the epicenter of Iowa’s famous duck country. Growing up, Maynard heard old timers tell of the skies being “blackened by ducks”. By Maynard’s time, market hunting and over harvesting had greatly diminished the region’s duck populations. However, when larger flocks passed, young Maynard was still, on rare occasions, able to witness the skies darken. This made quite an impression on him.
As with Jay Darling, his father’s work meant the family moved around a bit, first to Lynnville, then to New Providence and finally to Earlham, located just west of Des Moines. While in the seventh grade, a teacher introduced Maynard to watercolors. Captivated and inspired by the new medium, Maynard made up his mind to be an artist.
In 1933, when Maynard was 12 or 13 years old, a teacher entered one of his sketches featuring a flock of Mallards into an art contest at the Iowa State fair. It won first place, including a blue ribbon and prize money in the amount of $1.50 – the most he had ever earned at one time. For the budding artist, this confirmed his career choice and he spent all of the the money on art supplies. In 1937, soon after turning 17 years old, Maynard graduated from Earlham High School (see Figure 1).
According to Maynard, his family was poor. Therefore, he was unable to receive formal art training as a youth. After high school, Maynard’s family did not have enough money to send him to college. He started hanging around the museum located at the Iowa State Department of History and Archives (later known as the Iowa Historical Society and now as the State Historical Society of Iowa), helping out and doing odd jobs.
He wanted to get on full time as an artist and follow in the footsteps of two of his boyhood idols, Francis Lee Jaques at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and Owen Gromme at the Milwaukee Public Museum – but that would have to wait for a couple of years.
One of his contacts at the museum was able to get him a steady job with Meredith Publishing Company (later Meredith Corporation) in Des Moines. He was finally a professional (graphic) artist. It was in in 1938, while working for Meredith, that one of the editors introduced him to Jay N. Darling.
The Two Iowa Artists Meet
At the time, Maynard was 18 years old and Jay was 52 or 53. Maynard was just starting out and barely a professional artist, while Jay was a world-renowned cartoonist and conservationist, having been the Director of the Bureau of Biological Survey, designed the artwork for the first federal waterfowl stamp and was currently the president of the National Wildlife Federation (see Figure 2).
In addition, Maynard remembers Jay had a deep, “booming” voice. At first, Maynard was somewhat in awe and even a little intimidated by Darling. However, despite the age and experience difference, the two had much in common: their father’s professions, their love of nature and interest in wildlife conservation, where they lived and worked (Des Moines) and their appreciation for ducks – both for for hunting and as a favorite subject for their art.
The two soon formed a deep connection and would remained close friends until Jay’s death in 1962. Darling saw great promise in Maynard as a wildlife artist and decided to “take him under his wing”. Over the next ten years (except while Maynard was in the service), the two would often meet and Darling, although not a wildlife artist per se, was able to consistently help correct the accuracy in Maynard’s painting and impart much in the way of general advice and encouragement.
Frequently this took the form of “work harder; do more research, study the animals and birds in more detail and spend more time drawing”. One of Jay’s pieces of advice was for Maynard to “make five sketches every day for five years, it (becoming a good artist) is 95% practice”. With Jay to push him, Maynard attempted to do just that and eventually became a self admitted “perfectionist”.
Maynard’s work would ultimately become known for its lifelike subjects, true colors and authentic backgrounds. This attention to detail led to water becoming his favorite thing to paint. Maynard found painting water challenging and rewarding – to be able to “capture all of its different moods”.
Maynard was not completely happy working as a graphic artist and wished to focus on wildlife art. In 1940, after two years with Meredith, Maynard returned to the museum as a full time staff artist. Jack Musgrove, current museum director, hired Maynard to paint many of the museum’s dioramas.
According to Maynard “I also worked on a lot of songbird and waterfowl sketches. Through the museum, I had obtained a special federal permit to harvest waterfowl at any time of the year and learned a lot about ducks. I also learned taxidermy, which gave me a better understanding of the anatomy of both birds and animals”.
In 1943, a previously completed series of watercolors became Maynard’s first published paintings. They illustrated a book by Jack Musgrove and his wife, Mary, titled Waterfowl in Iowa. The book was published by the Iowa Conservation Commission.
It was during this period of work at the historical museum, before and after WWII, that Maynard came into his own as a wildlife artist (see Figure 3).
In 1942 Maynard went into the army. Before shipping out to Europe, he spent some time stationed at an army base in New Jersey. This provided him with the opportunity to go into New York and, on several occasions, meet with his boyhood idol, Francis Jaques.
Maynard would later say that the work of Jaques heavily influenced his own. Maynard was especially interested in Jaques’ backgrounds. He studied Jaques’ museum work in New York and Minneapolis and bought all of the books featuring Jaques’ work.
During WWII, Maynard served primarily as a photographer in the Army Signal Corps. When the fighting in Europe came to an end, Maynard was informed that he would then be shipped to the South Pacific. According to Maynard, “At that time the army had a point system for discharge. While waiting for a ship to take us to the South Pacific, my points for previous course work in radar came through and I had accumulated enough to get out”.
So Maynard was able to return to Iowa before the end of the war. In 1946, he married June Carman. June had been born and raised in Des Moines. She graduated from Lincoln High School and had attended Drake University.
Maynard returned to the museum in 1946 and stayed until 1950, when he resigned to do freelance work full-time. In 1946, he began one of his first major assignments, to illustrate the color plates for Iowa Fish and Fishing (see Figure 4). Published by the Iowa Conservation Commission, the book brought Maynard much recognition, especially for his ability to accurately depict fish species.
According to one review, “The Iowa fish were painted with such detail that they were scientific. The exact number of scales, the precise colors. It was if the fish had jumped from the cold water”.
Artwork Selected for the 1948-49 Stamp
By 1947, Jay had come to believe that Maynard’s work was getting to be on par with the country’s leading wildlife artists. He then encouraged Maynard to submit artwork to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, thinking it would have a good shot at being selected for a duck stamp.
Maynard told me that by this point “he was quite interested in waterfowl and thought – why not?”.
Some accounts have Maynard submitting artwork two years in a row before being selected. Maynard does not recall that this was the case. I asked Russell Fink and he recalls that Maynard (first) submitted artwork in 1947 and that it was subsequently selected to appear on the 1948-49 stamp. The artwork featured a trio of Buffleheads in flight (see Figure 5).
The first federal duck stamp contest was held in 1949, with the winner (in this case Walter Weber) having his artwork chosen for the next year’s stamp (the 1950-51 issue). Prior to the first open art contest, how was the artwork chosen?
It was selected by a special committee appointed within, initially, the Bureau of Biological Survey and then its successor, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
In 1939, under Reorganization Plan No. II (53 Stat. 1433), the Bureaus of Fisheries and Biological Survey were moved to the Department of the Interior. Reorganization Plan No. III (54 Stat. 1232), consolidated the two into the Fish and Wildlife Service under a Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.
According to Federal Duck Stamps and Their Place in Waterfowl Conservation (a Department of the Interior publication by Edna N. Slater in 1947 – see Figure 6), “This committee invites outstanding Wildlife artists to contribute drawings [one of which is] to be used as the design of the new stamp”.
The fact that the committee invited “outstanding” wildlife artists suggests that Jay Darling may have done more than encourage Maynard to submit artwork – he may have also put in a good word, enabling him to get an invitation to participate. In 1947 (at age 27) is is not entirely clear that Maynard would otherwise have been on the committees’s radar.
1948-49 Stamps Issued
The medium used by Maynard was tempera with a black and white wash. After the artwork was selected by the committee, it was sent to designer Robert L. Miller. Miller took Maynard’s artwork and used it for the central vignette. He then designed the finished stamp, complete with frame lines, lettering and denomination (face value).
Once Miller was finished designing the stamp, it was turned over to the Engraving Department at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Two engravers were assigned to produce die proofs. The vignette was engraved by Arthur W. Dintaman, while the frame lines, lettering and numerals were engraved by Axel W. Christensen (see Figure 7).
Maynard’s design was selected two years after that of Robert Hines. This is noteworthy for two reasons, the second of which we will discuss shortly. First, the 1946-47 stamp designed by Hines is known for being the first federal waterfowl stamp to have a message printed on the reverse.
Further, an offset plate number (47510) was added to the reverse of each sheet of 112 stamps. It was placed in the upper right pane margin (or selvage) of stamp number UR24, and in no other position. The same holds true for the 1948-49 stamp (see Figure 8).
The large sheets were then cut down into four panes of 28 for easy distribution to post offices. The panes were packaged and shipped and the first day of public sale for the 1948-49 federal waterfowl stamp was July 1, 1948 (see Figure 9).
One of my favorite usages of the 1948-49 federal is in combination with a Kansas quail stamp, a Marion County, Kansas duck stamp and a Marion County fishing stamp – all used on a license issued to former Marion County Park and Lake Supervisor John Waner ( see Figure 10).
A striking usage is shown in Figure 11. It is almost certainly the result of the license owner being in the military. Military personnel were not required to purchase a new license each year. They were, however, required to purchase a new federal stamp if they intended to hunt waterfowl.
Those who read the series of posts titled My Favorite Federal Duck Stamp, may remember that pioneer waterfowl stamp collector Alvin C. Broholm lived not far from Des Moines, in Waterloo, Iowa.
Alvin specialized in collecting artist signed federal stamps. After the 1948-49 stamps were put on sale, Alvin enclosed some with a letter to Maynard requesting he please sign them. Maynard’s letter in reply and the signed plate number single are shown in Figures 12 and 13.
There were five print editions of Maynard’s Buffleheads image. The first edition was a lithograph, pulled from a stone in the manner described in part four of My Favorite Federal Duck Stamp. The image size was 6.75″ x 9.125″. The litho was pulled in black ink on white paper and was titled and signed by Maynard Reece in pencil. The first edition size was 200 ( see Figure 14).
The second and 3rd editions were also stone lithographs. The first edition has one clump of grasses to the the lower left of the lead duck, while the second edition has two. The 3rd edition is marked as such. The fourth and fifth editions were printed in full color. The 4rd edition is numbered out of 350, while the 5th (or Master) edition is numbered out of 125.
The First Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest
In 1948 Robert Hines left his position as staff artist for the Ohio Division of Conservation, moved to northern Virginia and went to work as an artist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was recruited by Frank Dufresne, who had recently become Director of Information for the USFWS.
When he first arrived in Washington, D.C., Hines worked directly under the legendary Rachel Carson (see Figure 15). Carson was a marine biologist, ecologist and writer who is now considered to be the “Mother of the Modern Environmental Movement”.
She wrote several influential books such as Silent Spring, Under the Sea wind, The Edge of the Sea and The Sea Around Us. The books raised public awareness for conservation, environmental protection and human health. Rachel Carson first warned of the dangers of pesticides such as DDT. Silent Spring is credited with saving the American eagle and peregrine falcon from extinction.
In an interview conducted by Russell Fink, Hines expressed his enthusiasm to have the opportunity to work with a scientist of Carson’s stature (see Figure 16).
As a recent duck stamp artist, Hines was also quite interested to observe the committee’s selection process for the annual stamp. After doing so, it may come as a surprise to learn that Hines is reported to have been “appalled by the casual, subjective nature of the procedure”.
He subsequently proposed an open contest with stated rules, guidelines and impartial judges – the format that is still used today. For this reason, Hines has become known as the “Father of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest”. For many years, the contest was judged in private, in a room at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. (see Figure 17).
I know this may be a lot of to process, so let’s break it down. First, I want to make it clear that in 1948 he was observing the selection process for the 1949-50 stamp – Roger Preuss’ American Goldeneyes – not Maynard’s Buffleheads selection.
Second, it should be noted that Hines benefitted from a similar process just a few years earlier – and I didn’t find any evidence that he was “appalled” then.
Third, something happened during the selection process for the 1949-50 stamp that upset him greatly and so he devised a new system for choosing the annual duck stamp design.
The contest was opened for public viewing in 1966. It has evolved into a much anticipated, oftentimes dramatic event that has created a tremendous amount of positive energy and publicity (buzz) for the federal duck stamp program.
For more information about the current contest, see The Million Dollar Duck (2016).
Reece Wins the Second Open Art Contest
When the open contest was initiated, Hines made all previous duck stamp artists eligible again for the first time since their artwork had been selected by the committees. Following Walter Weber’s win in 1949, Maynard Reece won the contest for the first time in 1950 (see Figure 18).
Maynard’s winning entry featured a pair of Gadwall ducks, taking off from the water that he loved to paint (see Figure 19). Once again, Maynard chose tempera with a black and white wash. After the artwork was declared to be the winner by the judges, it was sent to designer William K. Schrage. The engraving was accomplished by Richard M. Bower (vignette) and Ruben K. Barrick (frame lines, lettering and numerals).
The first day of issue for the general public was July 1, 1951. An interesting “usage” is shown in Figure 20. A husband and wife purchased and signed a pair of stamps and kept them intact while hunting.
Another nice piece is literally that; a portion of a Kansas Combination Resident hunting and Fishing License with a 1948-49 federal waterfowl stamp and a 1951-52 Marion County fishing stamp affixed. The waterfowl stamp has been signed by the legendary Jerry Mullikin (see Figure 21).
There were three print editions of Maynard’s Gadwalls image. The first edition was a stone lithograph. The image size was 6.75″ x 9.125″. The litho was pulled in black ink on white paper and was titled and signed by Maynard Reece in pencil. The first edition size was 250 ( see Figure 22).
The second edition was also a lithograph and is marked as such. The edition size was 400. The 3rd (or Master) edition was printed in full color and is numbered out of 125.
After Maynard won the 1950 federal duck stamp contest, he resigned his position at the museum to do freelance work, full-time. He did illustrations for calendars and magazines such as Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and Sports Illustrated. He did paintings in his free time.
In 1952, Maynard and June started their family. Their first son, Mark, was born in 1952, followed by Brad in 1954. Maynard kept working (often traveling great distances for assignments) and steadily building his reputation.
In 1955, Life Magazine commissioned him to paint a portfolio of 73 different freshwater fish and they followed this up with a subsequent portfolio of saltwater fish in 1957.
It was in 1957 that Life published a seven page photo essay with Maynard’s fish illustrations. With two federal waterfowl stamps to his credit and the Life Magazine spread, now Maynard Reece was on everybody’s radar – including John Olin’s.