Maynard Reece: An Iowa icon of art and conservation

By Joe Jayjack on July 31, 2020 in Blog

Maynard Reece

Photo by Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) was fortunate to have a decades-long relationship with famed wildlife artist Maynard Reece, who passed away on July 11.

Many outdoorsmen and women don’t consider their art collection complete until they have a piece of Reece’s art on their wall. But what intrigued Maynard, who is best known for his paintings and illustrations of waterfowl and fish, was the habitat of these wild creatures.

Gerry Schnepf, INHF's first president, said that Reece was “one of the people that very early on had a perception of the importance of water.”

When he was profiled by the Des Moines Register five years go (and painting daily at 95 years old), Reece said “People ask me all the time what is my favorite thing to paint, and they assume it’s mallards. But I say water. Water is the most difficult thing to paint. It has so many moods.”

Reece was born in Arnolds Park on the shores of the Iowa Great Lakes in 1920. His skill as a wildlife artist became evident early on, and he won a blue ribbon at the 1933 Iowa State Fair for his drawing of a flock of mallards. Shortly after graduating from Earlham High School, he was spotted by executives from Meredith Corp. while sketching wildlife on display at the State Historical Museum in Des Moines. That led to his first job as a graphic artist. While working at Meredith, Reece was introduced to artist and conservationist Ding Darling, and the two formed a lasting friendship.

Reece would go on to do work for national publications, including a series of freshwater and saltwater fish illustrations for Life magazine. He was a record five-time winner of the Federal Duck Stamp competition, and in 1972 he was commissioned to paint the first Iowa Duck Stamp.

He joined the board of INHF two years after the organization was formed and served as a trustee from 1981-1992, then as an advisor for long after that. Schnepf said Reece was instrumental in the success of a series of wildlife art shows that benefitted wetland protection in Iowa. He helped to bring in artists from across the state, and often agreed to be the featured artist for the exhibitions, including giving away original pieces of his highly sought after art.

In 1998, a newly restored wetland in Kossuth County was named in Reece’s honor. Maynard Reece Marsh was protected through a partnership between INHF, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.

Maynard Reece Marsh dedication

Reece also created the goldfinch and wild rose painting that was used to celebrate INHF's 25th anniversary in 2004. His artwork has raised millions of dollars for conservation and education program over the years.

Lande and Reece

"There are not many people that could turn around and point to their legacy like Maynard," Schnepf said. "He could point to it in all the art pieces, and in many cases on the ground. That is a remarkable legacy."

Reece’s family asked that memorial gifts be directed to INHF to become part of the June & Maynard Reece Wetland Fund. The Reece family established this special fund as part of INHF’s land protection endowment in 1998 to support wetland conservation in Iowa. 

“INHF is honored to hold this fund and to accept gifts in Maynard’s memory,” said Abby Hade Terpstra, INHF donor relations director. “Maynard was an incredible voice for conservation and shared with many the beauty of the wetlands where he so often found inspiration for his artwork.”