One March evening in 1986, some 20 local conservationists assembled in Cincinnati, Ohio, determined to rescue the wildlife-rich river bottom area, known as the Oxbow, from commercial development. They needed an attorney’s advice on gaining state approval of their planned organization, and this brought up the question of money. After some discussion, Karl Maslowski, longtime OWAA member and member of the Circle of Chiefs, picked up his hat, dropped a $10 bill into it and said, “Let’s take up a collection,” thereby becoming the first donor to the new Oxbow Inc.
This was typical of Karl’s dealing with problems. His direct approach, coupled with bulldog persistence, helped make him a legend in his chosen profession.
Maslowski, who died at his Cincinnati home on June 1, 2006, traced his career as a nature photographer to an evening class at the University of Cincinnati. For a class project, he borrowed a movie camera and used it to illustrate a 10-minute talk on local wildlife. This brief, illustrated lecture went so well that the university hired him to create a series of wildlife programs to promote the school. This was the beginning of Karl’s lifetime career in wildlife photography, writing and lecturing. He served in World War II as a combat photographer.
Maslowski was a pioneer in wildlife color photography. His motion pictures illustrated hundreds of lectures delivered to the National Audubon Society, National Geographic Society, garden clubs and other groups. His combined audiences totaled an estimated 1 million viewers.
For more than 50 years, his weekly column, “Naturalist Afield,” appeared in the Cincinnati Sunday Enquirer. He wrote hundreds of magazine articles. Thousands of his photos appeared in books and magazines. His still photos were predominately taken in southwestern Ohio, but he photographed wildlife in other states, as well as Africa and the Canadian Arctic.
Karl helped found the Cincinnati Nature Center and Oxbow Inc. For many years he served on the boards of directors of both the Nature Center and the Museum of Natural History.
His honors were many. Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology gave him the Arthur Allen Award, and Miami University granted him an honorary doctorate.
When Karl retired, his sons, Steve and David, carried on his work in Maslowski Wildlife Productions. This allowed Karl more time to go hunting and fishing, which he continued into his 94th year.
George Laycock, a member of OWAA since 1951, lives in Cincinnati. He is a recipient of both the Jade of Chiefs and Excellence in Craft awards. In slightly different form, this article will appear in Wetland Matters, the newsletter of Oxbow Inc.
Life is good when we pursue our passions
A son recalls lessons learned from his father, who never lost sight of what was important
By Steve Maslowski
We cannot forget that simple, natural law, “What can’t go on, won’t.” Dad seemed immortal, but the law applies universally.
Those who knew Dad may remember him for many things. He was a member of OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs. He produced dozens of movies and served as a Disney cameraman. He received the Cornell Lab of Ornitholo-gy’s Arthur Allen Award, published thousands of photos, wrote a newspaper column for 50 years and presented lectures – including a number of personal appearances for National Geographic – to a combined audience estimated to exceed 1 million.
Still, I think one of Dad’s defining characteristics was his passion for hunting and fishing. He was especially avid about rabbit hunting. Rabbit hunting even gave presage to his demise.
Dad’s birthday was in early February. The Ohio cottontail season invariably extends to the end of the month. That gave Dad about three weeks after each birthday to shoot a rabbit and confirm to himself and the world that he was still spry. He got a rabbit after his 92nd birthday, but following his 93rd, a temporary illness kept him from venturing afield during those last critical weeks of the season. Perhaps this failure to rub a rabbit’s foot meant his luck was about to run out. Just a few months after the rabbit season closed, on June 1, 2006, Dad passed away in his sleep.
Dad’s passion for the out of doors was innate and deep. Early on, his mother gave up trying to keep him from stuffing turtles and snakes into his pockets, and he carried a .22 rifle to school so that he could hunt on his way home. If there ever was a group of “old-school” outdoor writers who made it into the 21st century, Dad was among them. He began his long-running newspaper column on nature in 1937 (at age 24), just 10 years after OWAA was founded. For the son of an immigrant gardener, the Depression-era money was important, but more so was the platform for sharing the outdoors.
I sometimes think of Dad’s passion in terms of my first beagle, which was a birthday gift from Dad many decades ago. I was amazed at how that dog could joyfully chase rabbits all day without the slightest hope of ever catching one. What motivated it? I’ve since concluded that we can’t explain the source of passions – but life is good when we pursue them. Dad drove a modest car, wore slightly threadbare clothes, shot an old gun and lived modestly, yet he frequently claimed he lived “the abundant life.” His pleasures in simple things seemed quaint – in a good, old-fashioned way.
Dad continued to come to the office almost every day for a few hours – mostly to correspond with friends, nearly all of them younger. Often he would set up future dates for hunting and fishing, and he would end the communiqué with the promise to be there as long as “the cricks don’t rise.” Unfortunately, the long, long spell of low water – and rabbit hunts – could not last.
While Steve Maslowski was young, the set up a lot of light stands for his father. He’s following in his father’s footsteps, though he admits, “He wore size 12 shoes; I wear 8 1/2. That pretty much sums up the situation.” Maslowski has been a member of OWAA for 20-plus years.