2002 : Oscar Warbach, Noted Michigan Conservation Illustrator, Dies

March 3, 2018 all-day

Oscar Warbach's sketch of a hunting lodge, 1971, courtesy of Seeking Michigan (Archives of Michigan)

Anyone who has ever viewed Escanaba in da Moonlight probably has his own mental images of deer camps in the Upper Peninsula. However, a State of Michigan Department of Conservation employee, Oscar Warbach, has also provided us with a wonderful depiction of a hunting lodge (1971).

Oscar “Ozz” Warbach was born on March 21, 1913 and grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He liked to draw, but received little formal art training. Instead, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Husbandry from Rutgers University in 1935 and a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Michigan State University in 1938. In 1941, the Michigan Department of Conservation hired him as a game biologist. Ozz worked at the Department’s Rose Lake Wildlife Research Center until the outbreak of World War II. He then joined the First Army Evacuation Hospital, where he became a Captain. During his training, he met his future wife, Laura, who was then an Army nurse. After the War, he worked for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Patuxeut Research Refuge in Maryland. In 1954, the Michigan Department of Conservation created a “conservation illustrator” position, and Ozz returned to Michigan. He stayed in this position until his retirement from the DNR in 1977 (The Department of Conservation was renamed the Department of Natural Resources in 1968.) Afterwards, he continued to draw on a free-lance basis.

By 1990, Ozz was living in Florida. Much of his original art now resided within the Archives of Michigan. Archivist Helen Taylor phoned him that year to ask about those illustrations and whether he held any copyright on them. He seemed surprised and noted that he drew them as a State of Michigan employee. “All my drawings,” he said, “belong to the people of Michigan.” The following summer, Ozz stopped by the Archives to introduce himself. He seemed pleased that his art was being preserved and appreciated.

Oscar Warbach passed away on March 3, 2002. To the people of Michigan, he left one lasting gift: Approximately five hundred of his original illustrations are permanently housed within the Archives of Michigan. They represent the legacy of one who used his talents to educate as well as entertain.

Source: Helen Taylor and Bob Garrett, “Education Through Art”, Seeking Michigan, October 2, 2012.

Also available Mother Nature’s Michigan / Oscar Warbach. [Lansing, Mi.] : Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources, c1990. 96pp. Michigan Government Documents (3 West) QH48 .W37 1990

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