Home-grown talent earns Chester Martin “Ding” Darling Memorial Award

Chester Martin and his twin brother Victor were only in junior high when they started sketching wildlife, getting inspiration from artists like Orville Rice, who illustrated the Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine that came to their door.

“We thought, we could do that,” Martin said. Their father took them to the Texas Fish & Wildlife Department to show off their work. “But of course we weren’t ready for prime time,” he said.

But at this past annual TWS conference in Cleveland, Martin’s artwork, including paintings using watercolors and acrylics, earned him theJay N. “Ding” Darling Memorial Award for Wildlife Stewardship Through Art.

“I was kind of blown away,” said Martin, a wildlife biologist who has often worked with the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association, studying species on military installations.

The award, which began in 2015, recognizes the heritage established by Darling, a renowned wildlife artist and cartoonist, to promote wildlife habitat and conservation through art.

Martin in his studio. Image courtesy of Chester Martin.

Martin had no art classroom training. Instead, he painted and sketched from what he saw in nature, getting inspiration from fellow artists. His first paid work as an artist was painting bucking broncos in storefront windows for $5 apiece when the rodeo came through town. At Texas A&M University, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife and fisheries sciences, he sketched diagrams of specimens to study for tests.

Colleagues and faculty noticed his talent. One professor asked him to help illustrate his book on the mammals of Texas’s Trans-Pecos region. “A well-illustrated book is so much nicer in my opinion than a poorly illustrated one,” Martin said. “It’s an attention catcher. It grabs and forces you to go into the narrative.”

Martin said he loves painting all types of species, from fish to large mammals to bats. But birds are a favorite, he said, not just to him but to his buyers. He has donated his art as auction items to The Wildlife Society, the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association and the Mississippi Bat Working Group. On a mission trip in Honduras, he taught art skills to women so they could sell their work at local markets.

He feels his artwork complements science. “It’s a way for me to express myself through something besides just the narrative,” he said.

Header Image: Chester Martin works on his artwork in his studio. His subjects include a range of wildlife, from fish to birds to bats. Image courtesy of Chester Martin.