Archive for Friday, September 27, 1991


September 27, 1991


Behind every federal duck stamp is a piece of art.

The Museum of Natural History at Kansas University has the proof.

For the next three months, the museum will display a rare collection of duck stamps paired with prints of the original art.

"Some are extraordinary," said Cathy Dwigans, associate director of the museum.

The exhibition covers each issue from 1934 to 1990 and includes one of 60 known copies of the first duck stamp print.

The museum will host an exhibition opening from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The schedule includes demonstrations of duck calling and decoy carving.

The exhibition, on the museum's fifth floor, will run from Saturday to Jan. 12. It's sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is coordinated by a nonprofit organization.

DUCK STAMPS are revenue stamps issued annually by the federal government. The first duck stamp cost $1. Today, the price is $12.50.

Since 1934, the sale of 89 million stamps has generated $350 million to finance preservation of 4 million acres of wetland habitat for migratory waterfowl.

The wetlands are part of the 90-million-acre national wildlife refuge system, which includes more than 450 refuges. Three in Kansas are: Flint Hills southeast of Emporia, Quivira near Great Bend and Kirwin in north-central Kansas.

Excessive hunting laid waste to vast flocks of migratory waterfowl and millions of acres of marshland habitat was drained for agriculture and urban growth, greatly reducing breeding and nesting areas.

"Without water there is no wetlands. That's a big problem today. They're draining wetlands," said Tom Swearingen, exhibits director at the museum.

WATERFOWL hunters are required by law to buy a stamp each year. Nonhunters buy them as a means of contributing to habitat preservation and stamp collectors buy them as well.

J.N. "Ding" Darling, a political cartoonist for the Des Moines Register, led the drive to generate funds for the acquisition of habitat. His work led to the duck stamp.

He designed the first stamp in 1934, which had two mallards in flight above water. Most of the stamps have depicted waterfowl in their natural environment.

Until 1949, a nationally recognized wildlife artist was commissioned to produce a duck stamp design.

Since that year, an annual competition has taken place. The winning design is chosen by a panel, which receives about 1,000 entries each year.

THE CONTEST is the Super Bowl of wildlife art. It's a multimillion-dollar sweepstakes, because artists who win the contest sell prints of their work.

Some artists have won more than once. Illustrator Maynard Reece of Iowa won for the fifth time in 1969.

Some stamps have been controversial. Nonhunters raised a furor when Reece won in 1958 with a painting of a dog holding a slain mallard in its mouth during a hunt.

In addition, contest rules were changed to require the subject of each stamp to be a living waterfowl after a painting of a canvasback decoy won in 1974.

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