Our state’s landscapes and wildlife have been captured by many artists in their own way.
In the world of duck stamp art, Iowa is home to a living legend. Maynard Reece has won nearly every honor imaginable for his wildlife artwork – much of which famously showcased Iowa’s waterfowl.
Maynard is now in his early 90’s but far from retirement. He can look back at a lifetime of art, awards, and quality time with nature.
There is a place, where it is possible to enjoy Iowa’s outdoors… indoors. It is the Maynard Reece gallery in Des Moines. While it is safe to say that he is Iowa’s predominate wildlife artist, the name Maynard Reece is internationally known and his skills have taken him all over the world, painting wildlife in all sorts of environments.
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “My wife and I were in Antarctica in January of one year and in June of the same year we were in the Arctic Ocean. Both ends of the earth collecting things, and I was sketching and painting all the time.”
Reece was born in 1920 in Arnolds Park, Iowa on Lake Okoboji. He tells people he was only 100 yards of being a duck and he spent a large amount of time exploring and taking advantage of the areas natural wonders. It was at the age of thirteen that he took his first step towards becoming an artist.
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “And I was at a little school. We didn’t have art classes or anything but the teachers saw it and decided to send it in to the Iowa State Fair and I won first prize and a dollar and a half. Most money I ever had in my life. Used the money to buy art supplies because that’s what I wanted and needed. So I was off and running.
Because his family was poor, Reece never received a formal art education. He did however have a mentor in Ding Darling. As a cartoonist at the Register, Darling often commented on issues concerning conservation and preservation. He was recruited by FDR to serve on the Presidents Committee for Wildlife Restoration, was the founder of the National Wildlife Federation, and was often referred to as the "best friend a duck ever had."
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “When I went in to meet him I was scared to death and he had a very gruff voice. And he says, 'Well I can tell you it’s nice and it won’t do you any good or I can tell you what’s wrong with it. What do you want?' And I said I want to learn, so we were friends from then on."
After working briefly at Meredith publishing Reece began working at what is today known as the State Historical Museum. While there, he worked collecting specimens for the museums collection and on the artwork for Iowa’s Fish and Fishing. The book, published by the Iowa Conservation Commission, was instrumental in launching Reece’s career as a freelance artist.
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “I had a fish tank in the office there and the DNR would bring species of fish there and I would paint them. I always demanded that I had to see every fish alive. A dead fish is not an interesting thing at all."
Today the first image that comes to mind when they hear the name Maynard Reece is probably a painting of waterfowl rather than fish. He says that his favorite thing to paint is water and surprisingly, no matter what his subject matter, he tries to eliminate as much detail as possible.
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “But whatever detail is there has got to be very effective and correct. And uh, an artist paining a person doesn’t put seven fingers on a hand, and a bird artist doesn’t put x number of feathers on a wing. You know that there are 10 primaries and 10 secondary’s, so many scapulars and so forth. So you just do that automatically.”
Over the years, Reece has published over 400 editions of prints and his art has been used to raise millions of dollars for conservation and preservation programs. He has been the National Ducks Unlimited Artist of the year, the Iowa Pheasants Forever artist of the year and the Iowa Ducks Unlimited Artist of the year. He has done over 30 different stamp designs for various conservation organizations and is the only artist to have won the Federal Duck Stamp competition five times since the Ding Darling created the program in 1934. In recognition of his contributions to the conservation of wildlife, in 1998 a 125 acre marsh in Northern Iowa was named the Maynard Reece Marsh.
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “And when I made the dedication, I told people that were there that the ducks and I complimented them and appreciated what they did for us.”
At the age of ninety Reece says he’s slowed down a bit and paints only 3 or 4 pictures a year. He has one however that he calls the end and he’ll work be working on it right up to the end. It’s a painting of ninety mallards and Reece plans on adding another mallard for every birthday he celebrates. We hope he will be adding ducks for quite some time.
Maynard Reece, Wildlife Artist: “I hope that they will get an interest in wildlife and in nature and once they get an interest in it they will be more anxious to conserve it. That’s what I hope people will get out of my paintings. An appreciation of the natural world around us so they’ll try to save it.”