Julian Grier "Blake" Blakely was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on November 16, 1919, the son of Louise and Julian G. Blakely Sr., a flagman and conductor for the railroad. His mother died when he was 9, and he was raised thereafter by his stepmother, Inez Widdefield Blakely. He was a long-time mineral collector, professional photographer and antiques afficionado, living for many years in Greenville, Mississippi before retiring to Tucson.
Julian attended Duke University, but soon discovered a love of photography. His rise as a photographer was rapid; three months after taking his first photo he was hired as the staff photographer for the State Times newspaper in Baton Rouge. From there he became laboratory technician and chief cameraman for the Army and Navy Publishing Company for six years, and took a great deal of aerial photography from Scotland to Austria during the war, for use in preparing military maps. He also prepared military histories for most of the military bases in the U.S. He attended Engineer's School while in the military, studying under Germany's no.1 photographer at that time, Heindrick Hoffman, and was then assigned for 18 months to the War Crimes Tribunal as a motion picture and newsreel cameraman recording the Nuremberg Trials, shooting over 4,000 feet of film.
In 1948 he opened Julian's Studio of photography in Harrisburg, Illinois. He was at that time married to Lida Thomas, but the marriage ended a short time later. In 1949 he married Lita Unsell (they had a son, Julian Greer Blakely, III, in 1950), but that union also ended (she remarried in 1952). In 1950 he settled in Greenville, North Caroline where he met and married Nell Robertshaw Uhler. Together they ran a successful photo supply and photography business called Blakenell Studio. Nell also worked as a photographer, reporter and book review columnist for The Delta Democrat Times. By 1964 they had divorced (they have three daughter: Hannah, Mary Catherine, and Melanie), and he had opened the Blakely Photo Supply store on Highway 82 in Greenville.
Julian had begun collecting minerals during his boyhood years in North Carolina, and was especially fond of the Amelia, Virginia pegmatite locality. In 1949, after a collecting trip to the Illinois fluorite district, he hit upon the idea of mass-producing attractive walnut specimen bases and lettering them in gold with species name and locality. He marketed them under the name of E.S.P. ("Esthetic Specimen Presentation") bases. Brown walnut-grained plastic soon replaced the overly expensive hardwood, and gold transfer lettering was supplied for the labeling. Blakely sold these bases for many years through his ads in Lapidary Journal and the early volumes of the Mineralogical Record. He wrote an article, "Display specimens properly," for Lapidary Journal in August 1971. He also sold specimens in Greenville under the business name of Blakely Mineral Gems.
Around 1980 Julian retired from the photography business and the specimen-base business and moved to Tucson, Arizona where he opened the Antique Mini-Mall on Grant Avenue as a retirement business. Julian was a lovable character with a broad, friendly manner and heavy Southern accent. He smoked constantly and was proud to have remained on good terms with all of his ex-wives. He was a volunteer for the Mineralogical Record for many years at the Tucson Show, running the Silent Auction tables with his wife Ruth. Ruth died in her sleep in 1987; Julian married twice more after that. He died in Tucson on March 15, 1997, at the age of 77.
WILSON, W. E. (1998) Died, Julian Grier Blakely, 77. Mineralogical Record, 28, 362-363.
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WILSON, Wendell E. (2017)
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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