The Art of Conservation: Robert W. Hines

Robert W. Hines: 1912 – 1994


Bob Hines holds a unique niche on the roster of past OWAA members. Rather than applying his skill with a pen or typewriter as most writers did, he deftly expressed his artistic talents with pencil or paintbrush.

Born and reared in Ohio, young Hines began drawing around four years of age to comfort his mother, who was bereft after the death of her newborn daughter. As Hines crossed the threshold of adolescence, his beloved mother died. Hines channeled his grief by tending to a backyard menagerie of animals. He also joined the Boy Scouts, acquainting him with the richness of Ohio’s natural beauty. After he graduated from high school at sixteen years of age, Hines taught himself taxidermy, which reinforced his knowledge of animal anatomy and movement. A health crisis the following decade forced Hines to reevaluate his career goals. He returned to drawing as a means of educating the public about Ohio’s wildlife.

Hines had no formal art training. In 1939, when he received a job offer to become staff artist for the Ohio Division of Conservation and Natural Resources, Hines turned to his former high school art teacher. In just four days, he learned enough about oil painting to serve him the remainder of his career. One of Hines’ first assignments was to compose “Under Ohio Skies,” a weekly feature that appeared in some 300 Ohio newspapers. He also illustrated and occasionally wrote an article for the Ohio Conservation bulletin, which in the 1940s had some 50,000 subscribers. Hines joined OWAA in 1942.

A chance meeting with Frank Dufresne lead to Hines’ debut as an illustrator of books with Dufresne’s “Alaska’s Animals and Fishes,” a 1946 release. Hines used his proceeds from the book to join an OWAA sponsored Alaskan trek in which Dufresne was one of the leaders. The grandeur of Alaska’s landscape and its wildlife made an indelible impression on Hines, appealing both to the artist and outdoorsman in him.

Encouraged by then OWAA President J. Hammond Brown, Hines submitted a drawing of redhead ducks, which became the design for the 1946 Federal Duck Stamp.

Hines humbly recalled, “In the 1930s and ‘40s there were no great rewards for designing the Federal Duck Stamp — no big publicity and certainly no huge financial rewards. It was just the honor of doing it.” He had to pay a dollar to purchase one of the Duck Stamps bearing his design for himself.

When Dufresne became the chief of information for the Fish and Wildlife Service, he encouraged Hines to leave Ohio, move to the Washington, D.C. area, and join the Service. A product of his generation, Hines was less than enthusiastic to learn that his immediate supervisor would be a woman, biologist Rachel Carson. Following the success of her 1951 “The Sea Around Us,” Carson asked Hines to illustrate her next book.

After he joined the Service, Hines was eager to observe the selection of the annual Duck Stamp design. He was appalled at the casual, subjective nature of the process. Hines suggested a more formal contest with impartial judging. He went on to coordinate the annual competition for more than 30 years, earning him the moniker “Mr. Duck Stamp Contest.” Hines’s brainchild continues to promote the genre of wildlife art while advancing the aims of conservation throughout the Americas.

In the mid-1950s, Hines facilitated and then designed the first four U.S. postage stamps featuring American wildlife. A British philatelic poll named his 1957 tricolored whooping crane stamp one of the 10 best stamps in the world for that year. The press run of 500 million stamps in the series introduced the term “conservation” a decade before it entered the national lexicon.

Hines illustrated several high profile publications for the Service that advanced the tenets of the organization. “Ducks at a Distance,” a 1963 primer of waterfowl identification, became a best-seller for the Government Printing Office, which sold more than 2 million copies. The frontispiece of “Birds in Our Lives,” a 1966 release, features a color Hines painting of a bald eagle. The image gained popularity as a collector’s print entitled “The Symbol of Our Nation” during the nation’s bicentennial year, selling more than 100,000 copies. To celebrate the centennial of U.S. fisheries conservation in 1971, the Service released “Sport Fishing USA.” Hines’s 22 color plates portray the habits as well as the habitats of their respective fish species. He along with Pete Anastasi wrote and illustrated “Fifty Birds of Town and City,” a 1975 release. Hines’s fish and bird images gained wider circulation as collector’s prints. His color illustrations enliven a 1979 edition of “Migration of Birds.”

In 1972, Ohio Rep. Delbert L. Latta read into the Congressional Record, “The Department of the Interior can be proud to have Mr. Hines on its staff, for his service to his fellow Americans is priceless.”

As Hines advanced through the Service, he attained the title of “National Wildlife Artist,” the only person to hold that distinction. He retired in 1981 after 32 years. Throughout his career, Hines illustrated more than fifty books. Upon his retirement, Hines was free to enter the Federal Duck Stamp contest as a private citizen. Hines submitted several entries, hoping to design a second stamp, but he never placed. His traditional style along with a faltering dexterity conspired against him.

Hines was unable to enjoy a fruitful retirement. His last major commission was to illustrate a 50th anniversary edition of Rachel Carson’s first book, “Under the Sea-wind,” released in 1991. Confined to a nursing home, Hines died in 1994 at 82. The centennial of his birth marks an opportune time to acknowledge a pioneer in the art of conservation, self-taught, versatile, and prolific. ◊

Written by John D. Juriga, author of “Bob Hines: National Wildlife Artist” (Beaver’s Pond Press, 2012).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top