Award-winning wildlife artist Donald Blakney of rural Princeton, who in 2001 survived an attack by one of his captive mountain lions, died early last week at his home of natural causes. Blakney would have turned 73 on July 15.
Blakney lived alone on his acreage along Sherburne County Road 2, next to the border with Isanti County.
Area resident Bruno Gad, a longtime friend of Blakney, said that half of Blakney’s property was once in Isanti County. Blakney sold the Isanti half a number of years ago, according to Blakney’s son, Todd, 51, of Richfield.
Donald Blakney had a misadventure that could have turned fatal on Oct. 1, 2001, when one of the two mountain lions he had in captivity attacked him. Blakney later recounted how the male mountain lion pushed its way out of its cage and began mauling Blakney after he had stumbled and fallen backward.
Blakney ended up with puncture wounds and injuries to his head and jaw before the mountain lion lost interest and retreated. Blakney made it into his house to telephone for help.
Wildlife art awards
Blakney grew up in Lexington, Ill., and graduated from high school there in 1958. Todd Blakney said that his father spent about three-fourths of his life in Minnesota and lived in New Brighton prior to moving to Princeton sometime between 1985 and ’90. Donald Blakney married and later divorced. Besides Todd, Blakney is survived by son Rockerick, 53, of Jacksonville, Fla., and is also survived by four grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.
It was in 1980 that Blakney began making his name as a professional wildlife artist, Todd Blakney said. That began with Donald Blakney painting the winning design in the 1980 New Hampshire pheasant stamp competition.
Blakney went on to win competitions for the 1981 Indiana duck stamp, the 1983 Bass Research Foundation, the 1983 Decoy Collectors of America, the 1985 Alaska Bald Eagle Foundation, and the 2011 Minnesota Trout and Salmon stamp. Blakney also took numerous second and third places in state conservation stamp competitions.
Blakney’s subjects included pheasants, loons, deer, wolves, fox, waterfowl, fish and owls. By the time the Princeton office of Bremer Bank featured a display of some of his art works in 2011, Blakney had been a wildlife painter for close to 45 years.
“He was a wonderful artist, very professional,” Bremer Bank President Art Skarohlid said.
Blakney was noted for painting very detailed wildlife art, said Princeton wildlife artist Dave Boudin. Boudin exhibited at art shows with Blakney for 30-plus years, mostly in the five state Upper Midwest region. But Blakney also exhibited in more far off areas, including Kansas and North Carolina, Boudin said. Blakney is in the “who’s who” of wildlife artists, Boudin said.
“He was real particular,” Boudin said of Blakney’s art work. “He detailed the veins on a leaf.”
Boudin and Gad agreed that Blakney lived in the environment that he enjoyed, the rural area with ponds and streams. For some time Blakney kept some wild animals in captivity as subjects for paintings, which became controversial in the case of the two mountain lions. Shortly after the mountain lion attack, Blakney’s two mountain lions were put down.
Gad spoke affectionately last week about Blakney.
“He and I had mutual interests: … the environment, the outdoors, nature,” Gad said. “He was a curmudgeon but also a good person.”
Blakney supported many conservation and wildlife organizations, including Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.
Neither of Blakney’s sons went into art as a profession. Todd Blakney said he did learn from his dad how to make art frames and made frames for him. Todd Blakney said his father put out about 70 print editions and that he has a large number of his art prints for sale.
Gad said he plans to bring Donald Blakney’s ashes after cremation to Lexington, Ill., for burial in a grave site with a headstone that Blakney had already selected. Gad has taken in Blakney’s old collie, one of the two dogs and only remaining animals at Blakney’s home when he died.
There won’t be a memorial service, Todd Blakney said. He explained that Donald Blakney’s will stipulated that people should remember him through his art, that he lived the life he wanted to live and that he loved animals and art.