Signed: Signed, lower right corner, in black, "JN. Ding".
The following is an email from Kip Koss, Jay N. Darling's grandson and expert on Darling's life. Email dated June 16, 2009.
"He [Darling] was using that signature [signature on painting] very early in his career. At the beginning of his career, he used a very unremarkable Ding, almost in block letters. As far as I can tell, he first used "JNDing" beginning with his cartoon of 12/28/1903. For a little while thereafter, he used a fairly simple "JNDing" with the tail of the "g" pulled down and abruptly to the left, so as to form a sort of an underline of the previous letters, much as is shown in the oil. Fairly soon after that, the signature began to become more and more stylized, evolving into the logo with which we are most familiar. So, I'd say the oil painting was certainly accomplished well before 1929 [date of photograph with Darling and painting] and may have been accomplished as early as 1904, when he was still drawing for the Sioux City Journal.
Credit Line: Gift of the J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.
The following is quoted from "Ding" by David Lendt:
"During some summers as a teenager, Jay Darling hired out to his Uncle John in Albion, Michigan, where he mowed marsh hay with a scythe and cradled wheat in the corners of the south forty that the McCormick reaper could not reach. The work was strenuous, and the yield bountiful. The small but rich farm was a paradise to the teenaged Darling. A clear stream ran across one corner, and a small stand of native timber stood on virgin oil. The water was full of fish, migratory waterfowl, nested beside the stream, and the timber was alive with songbirds. He fished in the same creek and hunted on the same millpond and timbered shores near Albion as did Lynn Bogue Hunt, who became famous as a wildlife artist. Jay Darling's first lesson in conservation came literally at the hand of his Uncle John. The youth shot a wood duck in midnesting season, and John blistered his nephew's rear. In the proper season, however, ducks were so abundant that Jay recalled his uncle saying "Now, I will do your milking for you; you go down and get a mess of ducks for dinner".
In 1948, Jay N. Darling remarked the only character "which has been completely of my own creations is the Iowa Farmer, old Uncle John farmer...." One of the earliest versions of the Iowa Farmer appeared in a cartoon dated June 26, 1919, when “Ding" Darling urged Iowa to pull itself out of the mud. The more refined and stylized versions of Iowa Farmer appeared years later. The model for Uncle John Iowa was Samuel H. Cook, a Van Meter, Iowa implement dealer who died in 1932.
Kip Koss disagreed with Dave Lendt regarding Darling's only created character. Darling also created the "Ordinary Citizen", a male character used often and repeatedly during his editorial career.
Curatorial note, agreed to by Kip Koss: Perhaps Darling combined the spirit of his biological uncle, John Darling, with the physical characteristics of Samuel H. Cook to create a combination portrait of Darling's Iowa Farmer or Farmer John.
Darling wrote of Uncle John, “… Uncle John Iowa, the Iowa farmer which I had used so long that it had become almost a “Ding” trademark…” Uncle John was one of a number of stock characters with whom Darling peopled his cartoons; John Q. Public, The Ordinary Citizen , and may ducks were others depicted in many of his over 15,000 cartoons for newspapers, magazines, book illustrations, and even for use in advertisements. These cartoons exist in many forms ranging from the original 22 x 28 inch ink drawings to pressman’s impressions to clippings from newspapers and tear sheets from magazines to photo-static and photographic reproductions.
Darling created his art usually by drawing, mostly in pen and ink, and by carving his drawings into etching plates. This oil painting of Uncle John is unique, and is only one of two existing oil paintings Darling created during his career.