Wildlife artist James Meger, whose oil and acrylic renditions of canvasback ducks and other fowl sparked a 30-year-plus painting career that found an appreciative audience nationwide, has died of cancer. He was 69 and lived in Edina.
A graduate of St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree, Meger was an Army officer in Vietnam for 14 months before returning to the University of Minnesota for a master's in art education.
For about nine years, he taught art in Louisiana and Minnesota schools before quitting to paint full time.
"I told him, 'We don't have any kids yet, so if you want to quit teaching, go ahead,'" his wife, Laurene, said. "Just a few months later, in 1980, he won the Minnesota state duck stamp contest."
Born in tiny Minneota in Lyon County, Meger relayed through many of his paintings a love of, and fascination with, rural Americana, especially the farmsteads and wildlife -- pheasants in particular -- that once dotted the southwest Minnesota landscape.
Meger added the state pheasant stamp contest to his credits in 1986 and often hid in his paintings wildlife that wasn't readily visible. "Places Remembered," for example, a 2005 acrylic of an idyllic scene featuring children, dogs and ducks, also illustrated, upon close inspection, white swans, screech owls and leopard frogs, among other animals.
Attorney Tony Soderman of the Twin Cities, a longtime friend and onetime hunting partner, said Meger was undeterred by wildlife art trends. "He didn't paint for the market," Soderman said. "But he changed his subjects over the years. At first, he couldn't stop painting canvasbacks. But he branched out, painting snowy owls, timber wolves and other wildlife."
Minnesota wildlife artist David Maass said he first met Meger in the late 1970s when he, Soderman and Meger were invited to hunt at the late Jimmy Robinson's duck camp on Delta Marsh, Manitoba. An excellent wingshot, Meger was an avid waterfowler whose time afield inspired his art, Maass said.
But Meger quit hunting in the early 1980s when he mistakenly killed a hen canvasback instead of the drake, or male, he had targeted.
"I was with him, and I believe that was the last duck he ever shot," Soderman said. "It really bothered him. If he ever killed another duck, it wasn't in my presence."
When Meger won the state duck stamp, wildlife art was big business, with established and even new painters often selling hundreds of limited-edition prints. That market has largely disappeared. Yet Meger stayed busy painting commissioned originals and issuing reproduction canvases that closely mimicked his originals.
"He painted six of our 'Prints of the Year,' more than any other artist," said Bob St. Pierre, Pheasants Forever's marketing vice president. "Those prints raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for wildlife habitat."
Meger was diagnosed in April with late-stage soft tissue sarcoma, which has been traced to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. He entered hospice Sunday and died Thursday.
In addition to his wife, Meger is survived by a daughter, Elise.
Private services and burial are planned. Messages for the family can be left at www.caringbridge.org/visit/jamesmeger.