Recently deceased model artist Don Bladon mastered the art of the miniature.
Over the past few decades, the farmer-turned-historian-turned-model-maker had deftly recreated 50 local heritage buildings with astonishing detail and historical authenticity.
Bladon, who passed away this month at age 82 and is survived by his wife Alma, donated 32 of his miniature masterpieces to The Reach, where he was a longtime volunteer and handyman.
“It was an honour to know and work with him and be entrusted to preserve his work for the future,” said Kris Foulds, collections manager at The Reach.
Foulds marvels at the scale and accuracy evident in each one of Bladon’s models.
Particularly important, historically speaking, is the fact Bladon patiently recreated lost heritage buildings, such as the now-demolished St. Ann’s Catholic Church, with the aid of historical photos. And in the case of structures that still exist but have become dilapidated over time, Bladon reimagined them in their original splendour, even if that took some historical sleuthing.
As an example, Foulds points to his model of the old Vosburgh Motors in Matsqui.
In order to recapture the building’s former glory he tracked down the son of the original operator to find out the building’s original exterior colour and other minute details.
“Extremely accurate,” Folds said about Bladon’s artworks, which she described as “beautiful miniatures” of “something that is gone or doesn’t look like it once did.”
“Incredible attention to detail that makes them so valuable. [The models] are not what he thinks they look like, they are what they look like.”
To do that, Bladon, who spent most of work life in farm-related activities, fully immersed himself in each project, like a method actor studying a role.
For one of his most impressive models – a 13 by 16 foot model of the Clayburn brickworks and village which is now displayed at the Clayburn Village Museum – Bladon became an expert on brick production, evening learning how the kilns of that era worked, explained Foulds. That model took him two years and thousands of hours to complete.
“[It was a] great commitment of time,” said Foulds. “He just so enjoyed to do it. The thing about Don, he was so humble despite his skill and ability.”
As Foulds explained, Bladon always paid attention to the little details, from tiny hand-cut roof shingles right down to the interior scene, like, for instance, diners enjoying a meal inside a cafe.
In 2013, The Reach held an exhibit of Bladon’s model work and Foulds said she continues to have a least a few of his miniatures on display.
“People just love them.”
Abbotsford historian and cartoonist Ernie Poignant is fortunate enough to have one of Bladon’s artworks on display at this home. Several years ago the two men both had displays on at the MSA Museum at the same time – Poignant had several historical photos of Matsqui on display, while Bladon was exhibiting some models.
Bladon spied a photo of the Matsqui home Poignant was born in back in 1919, later made a model of it and eventually — after having it out on display for a time — gave it to Poignant, who now proudly displays the model at the entrance of his home.
Poignant, 96, also marvelled at the depth of detail in each of Bladon’s models, noting that the artist had even included the little outhouse in the model of his family home.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Poignant. “It really touched me.”
“What I found amazing was how much work he put in each. He was such a gentleman, down to earth, so humble about what he’s created.”
Foulds noted that Bladon’s passing was a devastating loss to the community and The Reach.
“Aside from his work recreating Abbotsford’s built heritage, Don was the most willing volunteer, undertaking any project offered to him from site improvement at the Trethewey House site, to restoration of Downtown Abbotsford art benches.”
As Foulds explained, Bladon’s mastery of miniature models began in the 1970s when he was searching for a hobby, came across a model train display at the mall and later joined the local club.
Not long after, he graduated from building models from kits to scratch-making his own incredibly detailed historic art pieces — ones that will now fortunately become part of the permanent archival record.