Jaye Boswell doesn't share much about herself.
She's more comfortable talking about dolphin tours, a yard-sale chair in the garden of her home, the weather, white pelicans, that objects whistled by a kitchen window in the bending winds of Hurricane Charley.
Get past that stuff and you're talking with the woman who fostered the Junior Duck Stamp, a program since the 1980s that thousands of school kids have embraced, entering their duck art in national competition, introducing them to the natural world, the value of a creature as untroubling and yet as vital as a duck.
The impact of the stamp program has been profound. Top entrants have earned cash and scholarships, recognition and other accolades that carry them forward in life. A rare few become famous, their work on a $5 stamp coveted by world collectors.
Boswell introduced duck drawing as a project at Sanibel School. It was an extension of the adult stamp program introduced in the 1930s by Jay Darling, the ink cartoonist whose name is affixed to the wildlife refuge in Sanibel. Boswell remains a fixture in the junior duck stamp program, judging national finalists, staying close to federal authorities managing the project in Florida. She retired from teaching in 2004.
Boswell's impact in the duck stamp program is so considerable, a Connecticut woman in June traveled to Sanibel just to meet her. Sophia Brubaker told Boswell that students at her private art school have embraced the duck stamp project, she said. One young girl, in fact, was awarded an $80,000 scholarship to a prestigious art school based on a couple of duck stamp drawings she had entered in national competition. The school's judges said the work was powerful in its empathy of nature and its stark beauty. Other kids slip duck drawings in college portfolios, work on duck art on their own time, become aware and active in environmental issues, specifically because of the lowly duck Boswell introduced to Sanibel/Captiva school kids in the late 1980s, Brubaker said. Like Boswell did, Brubaker uses stuffed birds, decoys and calendars as examples for the children to work from.
"Kids write college essays on the duck stamp program," Brubaker said. "It has that much meaning. Since I couldn't meet Ding Darling, my dream has been to meet Jaye Boswell."
Again, Boswell is quick to deflect. Pressed, she's excited to talk about the ink fashion drawings she created in the 1960s in San Francisco. Or playbills, rock posters, political advertising art she created. Or that she drew shoe and handbag advertising for a Miami company called Pix. Or the greeting-card art she produced, that one firm copied her art exactly for a rival card. She has that card tucked carefully in a plastic sleeve.
She also points to work in a private studio, noting that she will exhibit colorful paintings at the Sanibel library in the fall. She likes talking about her son the airline pilot, a second son the ship captain, Sanibel, referencing her husband of many decades, a second home in the Keys, again white pelicans and the weather.
But that's about as far as it goes. To suggest that Boswell is faking modesty is ridiculous. It seems as if that segment of her life is tucked away like the 1960s ink drawings she has of pencil-thin women in pantsuits. At age 72, Boswell has moved on.
"I hope it's always there, to grow," she said the duck stamp program, "but also as way to give parents a pat on the back. The children are the treasures we have."