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Maynard Reece - The man behind the stamps

"I'm so conservation-minded and aware of the significance of wetlands in the salvation of man," says Maynard Reece, age 79. Born in Arnolds Park, Iowa, he grew up in the middle of many lakes and sloughs that once teemed with wildlife.

Early on, he realized the need for wildlife conservation. Reece combined his concern for conservation and his passion for painting, and both his life and art have been dedicated to those endeavors.

Reece has spent his life traveling throughout North America observing migration patterns and painting waterfowl, game birds and other habitats. He has painted all types of birds, mammals, insects and fish but has concentrated on upland birds and waterfowl.

"I was drawing ducks and other animals at an early age," he explained. Primarily a self-taught artist, he was tutored by successful artists in the field "who took me under their wings."

One such artist was J.N. "Ding" Darling, former head of the Bureau of Biological Survey, forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At Darling’s urging, Reece entered the Federal Duck Stamp competition in 1947. He didn’t win, but he took top honors the following year. The winning stamp featured a trio of buffleheads (RW15).

Reece recalls that he sold about 300 prints of his first winning stamp, with a personal profit of $7.50 each. Winners receive no compensation from the federal government, but do retain rights to merchandise products with the winning design.

That first win was the impetus for Reece to embark on a free-lance art career the next year. He went on to win the Federal Duck Stamp Contest again in 1951, 1959, 1969 and 1971, making him the only five-time winner of the prestigious award.

The 1959 stamp is most memorable because it shows a black Labrador with a dead mallard in its mouth. Reece says it is still one of the most popular stamps, although the rules were changed the following year prohibiting the use of other animals besides waterfowl. (Editors note: Rules now state that a live portrayal of any bird(s) of the five or fewer identified eligible species must be the DOMINANT feature of the design. The design may depict more than one of the eligible species. Designs may include, but are not limited to, hunting dogs, hunting scenes, use of waterfowl decoys, National Wildlife Refuges as the background of habitat scenes, and other designs that depict the sporting, conservation, stamp collecting and other uses of the stamp.)

For the past 30 years, Reece has devoted his life and his painting to other conservation causes, making him America’s most distinguished painter of waterfowl and game birds. He has designed more than 30 conservation stamps, earning him the title "Dean of Duck Stamp Art." His stamps and prints have raised millions of dollars for state and federal wildlife agencies and private groups to restore and maintain wildlife habitat.

Reece has been commissioned to design stamps for private groups, including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Quail Unlimited, Bass Research foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Ruffed Grouse Society. He was named 1973 Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year.

Reece has designed stamps for conservation causes in Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Washington State. His work on the state waterfowl stamp was a first for Iowa and, in 1972; it was the second state in the nation to initiate a duck stamp to raise funds for wildlife habitat.

Other firsts in Reece’s career include the first Missouri Wild Turkey Federation stamp in 1983, the first Chesapeake Bay Conservation stamp in 1984 and the first Arkansas Wild Turkey stamp in 1985. He also designed four postage stamps of indigenous fish for the government of Bermuda.

As far as the Federal Duck Stamp competition, Reece commented, "I think more emphasis should be put on the conservation purposes of the stamps. People don’t realize the importance of wetlands. Without them, we would not be able to exist."

Diana West in Stamp Collector

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