Maynard Reece, the beloved artist hailed as the “King of the Federal Duck Stamp,” passed away of natural causes July 11 in Des Moines, Iowa, where he’d lived since 1938. Reece had turned 100 in April and still had been painting actively as recently as 2018. “I can’t put in the kind of hours I did when I was younger,” he told me a few years ago. “But I still love to paint—and I have enough ideas for paintings to last me another 200 years.”
The son of a Quaker minister, Reece was a man of deep humility—and on the face of things an unlikely candidate for the stardom he eventually would achieve. And make no mistake: He was a star. When I was growing up in Iowa in the 1970s, Reece was already a living legend, and whenever he attended an art opening or other public event, a long line of fans invariably queued up to meet him. He greeted them all with his characteristic warmth and sincerity. Despite all the honors and accolades, there could not have been a man less affected by fame than Maynard Reece.
Reece was the first five-time winner of the Federal Duck Stamp, and his 1959 design, featuring the Labrador retriever King Buck, is undoubtedly the best-known image in the history of the program. There was a logic to Reece’s success in this arena: His mentor was none other than the Duck Stamp’s founding father, renowned conservationist and cartoonist Jay “Ding” Darling.
Although best known for his depictions of waterfowl, Reece was an accomplished painter of upland birds and also a wonderful painter of fish. His contributions to the worlds of art, sport and conservation are destined to endure, but among those of us who were privileged to know this extraordinary man, his legacy can be summed up in a single word: respect.