Walter A. Weber, 72, a noted wildlife artist whose detailed paintings of birds and animals appeared in the National Geographic magazine for many years, died Wednesday in Lynchburg, Va., after a stroke. He moved there after retiring in 1971.
Mr. Weber had devoted most of his life to perfecting his art. He was known for his precision in drawing creatures of all kinds and for the authentic backgrounds in which he placed them. His illustrations were considered not only to be of value to the scientific world but also to have the qualities of fine art.
While a staff artist for the National Geographic Society from 1949 to 1971, he had traveled throughout the world. He worked with live animals and birds where possible and from the vast collection of photographs he made.
Much of Mr. Weber's painting was done during that time at his 80-acre home near Oakton, Va. But, as he once explained, the actual painting required only about 25 percent of his time. The rest was spent in gathering the material for his work.
Before he joined the National Geographic, Mr. Weber had contributed to the society's magazine and books while working for the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution.
He was born in Chicago. An early interest in plants, animals and birds and a talent for drawing led him eventually to combine a college major in zoology and botany with the study of art at the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1927. He also studied at the Chicago Art Institute.
He became a scientific illustrator for the Field Museum in Chicago, now the Chicago Museum of Natural History, and traveled to the South Pacific on museum expeditions in 1928 and 1929.
He became a wildlife technician for the National Park Service in Texas and Oklahoma in 1935, and two years later moved to Washington as the park service's chief scientific illustrator.
His paintings were selected twice in national competitions for use on duck stamps that hunters must purchase from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The 1944-45 stamp featured whitefronted geese, the 1950-51 stamp a rare trumpeter swan.
Hundreds of his paintings were exhibited at the National Geographic Society's Explorers Hall and the Washington headquarters of the Interior Department.They also were exhibited in galleries around the nation.
In 1967, the Interior Department presented Mr. Weber with its Conservation Award for the role his "splendid and recognized artistry" had played in inspiring "a wider interest in our native wildlife."
Last year Mr. Weber donated much of his large collection of stuffed birds and animals to the biology department of Sweet Briar College.
He is survived by his wife, Grace, and daughter, Jean, of the home in Lynchburg, and two other daughters, Antoinette Piggott, of Lynchburg, and Kay Carey, of Ropesville, Tex.
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy may be in the form of contributions to The Nature Conservancy in Arlington.