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Times of the Islands Magazine

Our Darling ‘Ding’ - Cartoonist’s Contributions Highlighted in Documentary

Jan 02, 2016 09:21AM ● By Cory Batelaan
Cartoonist’s contributions again highlighted in February documentary


A documentary 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.


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 buzzsaw 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.

Ding ExhibitKoltinsky 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.’ ”

Brushes2Jay 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.

Craig Garrett is editor in chief for TOTI Media.

Words of Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling:

Lake Darling“Out West we have to get our sea food canned. But rather canned sea food and fresh friendships than canned friendships and fresh sea food!”

“When you boil all the superfluous water out of life, and sugar off, if you haven't gathered a goodly residue of friendships and affections, you aren't going to have very much sweetness left in the kettle.”

“We are planning what we may do to take the pollution out of the rivers and my particular job right now is to get back those old marshes, to stop up the drainage ditches, put water in where it formerly made a pleasant picture on the landscape, to restore the old lake bottoms, to divert streams that have been hurried off down the river, and impound water in those North Central areas.”