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New ‘Ding’ Studio Exhibit will be debuted in December

By Staff | Sep 11, 2019

A 3-D mural will honor Darling’s contributions to conservation through the Federal Duck Stamp Program he created. Artist David Williams of Wingin’ It Works in North Carolina, who created the refuge’s award-winning bathroom wildlife mural, has been hired to design and craft the mural. PHOTO PROVIDED

Construction is under way for a new exhibit at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor & Education Center taking visitors through an interactive story of ‘Ding’ Darling’s life.

Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said the remastered ‘Ding’ Studio Exhibit will debut on Dec. 2 with a grand unveiling, kicking off the 75th anniversary year of the refuge.

The new exhibit will be interactive, allowing visitors to really get a sense of who Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was.

Westland explained that they had an actual exhibit team come to the center to evaluate the Education Center a few years back. She said people loved the ‘Ding’ exhibit, it was the natural flow of how people went through the center, but unfortunately people never understood that ‘Ding’ was a man from viewing the exhibit, even though they were looking at his studio.

The exhibit was made possible through the ‘Ding’ Darling family, as well as the ‘Ding’ Darling Wildlife Society Friends of the Refuge.

A rendering of the new remastered exhibit. PHOTO PROVIDED

“His grandson had earmarked this money and our wonderful Friends Group is making this all possible,” Westland said.

The floor has been dropped in the Visitor & Education Center at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge to allow visitors the opportunity to walk into the exhibit and be part of Darling’s studio, instead of standing behind a railing, providing a more interactive experience.

“The big thing is the exhibit is becoming first person. Ding is talking to you about his life. Ding was a man, is a man and nobody understands that. They hear the word Ding, it is the contraction from his last name of how he signed his art. People hear Ding and think it is a silly bird,” Westland said.

The exhibit will explain that Ding was a man of many amazing accomplishments – a Pulitzer Prize winner for his cartoons, a conservationist, fisherman and hunter. She said Ding was a sportsman first and an artist second to get his voice heard through his cartoons.

In addition to becoming a part of his studio, visitors will also have the opportunity to sit at his recreated desk and page through the Des Moines Register newspaper, where his cartoons appeared.

The existing ‘Ding’ Studio Exhibit closed off for construction. PHOTO PROVIDED

“We selected eight of his conservation cartoons just as people saw them on the front page of the Des Moines Register. It will explain the cartoon from his voice of what he was trying to get across to people,” Westland said. “You can sit at his desk and page through his newspaper. The desk he worked at and drew cartoons of what his whole thought process was.”

An interactive timeline of his life will also be displayed electronically, providing individuals with the opportunity to page through it like a book. A Dictaphone will also allow visitors with the opportunity to hear three different recordings of Darling’s voice.

A selfie opportunity will also be available for those who would like to take a picture with ‘Ding’ Darling, a black and white cutout photograph.

“We are stepping back in time with all of these elements (explaining) that he was a man,” Westland said.

Children also will have a chance to understand that Darling was an artist with a special drawing area that will include drawing prompts.

“Adults are going to do it too and that is fine,” she said.

An activity book about ‘Ding’ Darling is also being created to commemorate the 75th anniversary. The special book will be among the others that children receive when they visit the center, free of charge, at the front desk. The activity book will also debut on Dec. 2.

Once individual’s leave the studio they will have the chance to learn about the Duck Stamp. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar helps acquire and protect habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“He created this whole idea and hunters still contribute,” Westland said.

After leaving the studio, and turning the corner, individuals will see Darling drawing through a window while sitting at the desk talking about creating the first Duck Stamp. To further explain the Duck Stamp a 127 by 98 outdoor mural of the wetlands will be created by the same artist that painted on the outside bathroom wall.

“He will be creating this beautiful mural of the wetlands and stamps will be placed on that mural. There will be a sign that says Duck Stamp dollars at work,” Westland said.

The 1935 Duck Stamp, which was drawn by Darling, depicting 3-D ducks flying out of it, will be the center of the mural.