The Roost Reveal, Ribbon Cutting Kick off Art in the Wild

provided to The Santiva Chronicle

Art is firmly embedded in the mission and legacy of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. It spans back to the refuge’s 1945 conception at the urging of Pulitzer-winning cartoonist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, up to today, with the celebration of The Roost as a soon-to-debut outdoor venue. It will expand refuge capabilities to educate about conservation and nature art.

An artist rendering of The Roost outdoor flex space at “Ding” Darling.

The inaugural Art in the Wild kicks off with a ribbon-cutting for The Roost, a more than $1 million project, by the SanCap Chamber of Commerce at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 21. Cookies and refreshments follow to celebrate Darling’s 146th birthday. Darling reenactor Tom Milligan will be on hand as attendees sing “Happy Birthday.”

The Roost, a 2,590-square-foot, earth-friendly pavilion, will serve as an outdoor classroom for visiting school and other groups. DDWS also foresees creative new uses that reflect the refuge’s arts legacy and experiential mission, including music and artist events, puppet shows, lectures, mindfulness classes, and culture-driven programs. Art-focused programming begins during the Art in the Wild weekend with live music, yoga, and a Nature Puppet Show by Gateway Elementary National Honor Society students from Fort Myers.

The two days also bring five duck stamp celebrities presenting and signing; 11 accomplished artists demonstrating their skills; eight others leading workshops and hands-on art stations; and an estimated 20-plus plein-air artists creating. Admission to Wildlife Drive will be free both days 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. to honor National Wildlife Refuge Week.

The famous Hautman brothers, multiple Federal Duck Stamp Contest winners from Minnesota, will make personal appearances that day. A special exhibition of their nature art also will be on display in the “Ding” Darling Visitor & Education Center Auditorium Oct. 12-29, along with a traveling federal exhibit of original junior and adult duck stamps.

Joe Hautman won the 2023-2024 contest and will be signing his winning stamp depicting three tundra swans. Brothers Jim and Bob will also appear, along with 2023-2024 Junior Duck Stamp (JDS) winner Mila Linyue Tong from Virginia and Florida’s JDS best-of-show placer Jenny Liu from Port Orange. Jim will sign his winning 2022-2023 duck stamps; both stamps are available to purchase in the Refuge Nature Store. Tong will also sign Junior Duck Stamps.

Sanibel artist Rachel Pierce plans to conduct a workshop “Paint on a Queen Palm Pod,” and former Junior Duck Stamp winner John Brennan will teach hands-on how to paint a duck. Refuge Artist-in-Residence Jacqui Roch will lead a Community Mural project in the afternoon.

Noted artists demonstrate their skills from noon to 4 p.m. on Oct. 21. They include world-renowned bird sculptor Jim Sprankle, pottery artist and educator Tim Smith, and Andrew Corke, who sculpted — using recycled bike tires — the refuge’s iconic manatees at its Best Restroom exhibit. He currently works on a roseate spoonbill made of bike tires for the refuge.

Other hands-on art activities include painting wine glasses, a nature journal hike, seashell painting, creating recycled jewelry, and decorating tea towels. Some activities limit participation. Visit to pre-register free-of-charge beginning Oct. 1.

On Sunday, Oct. 22, the refuge expects more than 20 regional plein-air artists to participate in its first-ever Paint Out. Visitors can observe the painters along Wildlife Drive and at Bailey Tract and can later place their vote for People’s Choice Award in the Visitor & Education Center through Oct. 30. Visit for a full schedule of activities and programs during the free two-day event.

“This will become an annual fall tradition to celebrate ‘Ding’ Darling’s art legacy and role in creating the first duck stamp and Federal Duck Stamp Program, which has continued for nearly 90 years and preserved six million acres of sensitive wetlands and wildlife habitat,” said Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland.

DDWS seeks sponsors for this year’s Art in the Wild. For information, contact April Boehnen at Current sponsors include Roseate Spoonbill: Wayne & Linda Boyd; Great Egret: Gretchen Banks, Friend of “Ding” Darling; Great Blue Heron: Margie Furniss; Reddish Egret: Bob & Nancy Adams, Bella Signs & Designs, Tim & Louise Huyck, LCEC, Tom Milligan & Deborah Kennedy, WooBamboo; Snowy Egret: Mondo Contract Flooring, Palm Printing, Maureen & Gary Saage, She Sells Sea Shells, Brian & Susan White.

As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop profits. To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit or contact Birgie Miller Gresham at 239-292-0566 or

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