The Soviet connection also dovetails with what is also a primary focal point at The Gallery on Fifth: To serve as a Russian art museum and cultural center.
Aside from Mr. Darling’s editorial cartoons and other drawings, the exhibit will also feature rarely seen personal items, including his art tools, original sketches, photos and more. In addition, limited-edition prints of Mr. Darling’s 1956 black-and-white sketch, “Fisherman I Have Met: The Old Sanibel Slip,” bearing his “Ding” signature, will be available for a donation of $125 to WGCU.
“The Hidden Works of J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling” is an outgrowth of the documentary “America’s Darling: The Jay N. ‘Ding’ Darling Story,” which was released in November and was broadcast on WGCU-TV for the organization’s month-long pledge drive in August.
Samuel Koltinsky, the documentary’s creator, Kim Woodle, Florida Gulf Coast University’s director of development, and Olga Arkhangelskaya, founder and owner of The Gallery on Fifth, worked together to make the “Hidden Works” exhibit a reality .
“As we have progressed with the production (of the film), we started uncovering a treasure trove of artifacts, research materials and artwork, both from the (Darling) family as well as private supporters of the project,” Mr. Koltinsky, a part-time Naples resident, says. “It occurred to me to start putting these artifacts where people would be able to see that path of production and have insight into his character and personality.”
Ms. Woodle says the idea popped up during a conversation she and Mr. Koltinsky were having about the documentary’s airing. Mr. Koltinsky suggested they bring Ms. Arkhangelskaya (ARK-angel-sky-a) in on their brainstorming.
It was Ms. Arkhangelskaya, a native of Russia, who came up with the idea for the exhibit as a fundraiser.
“We were specializing since our opening on Russian art, and I knew very vaguely that at a time when almost no foreigners were allowed to visit Russia, he (Mr. Darling) was invited by Stalin,” she says.
“Second, we are in Florida, and my daughter (Leeza) and I are Floridians for many years now. Anything that raises awareness of preserving Florida’s landscape and the unique ecological system, we are very much in favor of.
“Third is the art. ‘Ding’ Darling is among the most noted American cartoonists, and cartoons as a genre have always been very popular in Russia. Having ‘Ding’ Darling’s cartoons in the gallery is just close to our interests.”
A lingering legacy
A long-time, part-time resident of Captiva Island who died in 1962, Mr. Darling’s pioneering conservation efforts had a profound and lasting impact on the island, Southwest Florida and the nation. He was the driving force behind the Federal Duck Stamp Program, founder of the National Wildlife Federation, creator of the Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit Program and a key player in the creation of the America’s National Wildlife Refuge System.
What had been the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge was renamed the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in 1967 in recognition of his conservation efforts, particularly his push to ensure the 2,200-acre refuge would be protected from development.
“Hidden Works” brings together a host of rarely seen Darling memorabilia, such as 1920’s vintage cartoon plates the artist created for the Des Moines Register, a map he used while traveling in Russia and books he purchased there, artwork related to Captiva, and even his top hat.
“There really is something for everyone in these hidden works,” Mr. Soltinsky says. “We hope to have a wonderful turnout.”
More exhibits coming
The “The Hidden Works of J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling” isn’t the only happening at the Gallery on Fifth.
Ms. Arkhangelskaya is also forming a Collectors’ Club for exhibiting, selling and auctioning off artworks of private collectors in the area. Applications for those interested in sharing their collections with the public will be available starting Nov. 1. The inaugural Collectors’ Club exhibit, “Rescued from the Flames – Realist and Social Realist paintings from the Soviet Union” will open with a reception from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11.
“This will be the first time for an exhibition of this size in Florida or even the United States,” Ms. Arkhangelskaya says. “This event, I think, will be very, very important for the gallery, for Naples and for Collier County.”
Plans also call for the formation of a Russian-American Museum of Art at the Gallery on Fifth. RAMA will focus on long-term and permanent exhibits of historically important works and contemporary works by American and Russian artists via the Collectors’ Club, art competitions, sales and auctions.
Once RAMA is up and running, Ms. Arkhangelskaya says, the gallery will house one of the largest collection of Soviet art in the U.S. and also make the Gallery on Fifth the nation’s sole Russian-American museum.
For more information about the gallery and its programs, call 220-7503 or visit www.artorg.net. ¦