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Lions and tigers - on the wall? Oh my!

Donna Jean Carver sits on the couch in her Willmar townhome under the watchful eye of a herd of elephants. Carver has painted numerous murals on the walls of her home, many that look like a scene from Africa. Carver said she gets her inspiration from watching Animal Planet channel. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

Entering the home of Donna Jean Carver of Willmar, one may think they've been caught up in an African safari.

The 70-year-old artist began with one animal mural on a single wall.

"I get obsessed when I start a new painting," Carver said. "I sometimes even forget to eat."

Three months later and plenty of skipped meals later, nearly every wall inside her Willmar townhome has been transformed into an animal kingdom, with Carver's hand-painted animal murals.

Giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, tigers, zebras: all have taken up permanent residency on Carver's walls.

Carver didn't stop painting when she ran out of wall space in her townhome: Two tiger murals painted just outside her front door greet visitors before they even step inside.

"I didn't quit painting until I was outside the door," Carver said.

Painting is nothing new to Carver, who said she has been an artist for most of her 70 years. She has sold many of her paintings and needlecraft designs. Her work has been published in magazines and her prints have even been featured on greeting cards.

"It's in my blood," Carver said of painting.

Growing up, Carver said she would often watch her mother paint. When Carver moved into the Willmar townhome from New London, the bare walls provided a blank canvas for her to continue painting.

"The walls were screaming for pictures on them," Carver said.

Most murals in the townhome appear to be straight out of Africa -- giraffes in the bedroom, elephants and cheetahs in the family room, tropical fish in the bathroom. But when Carver sits down to eat in the dining room, she is in the company of cows and chickens, a nod to her upbringing as a farm girl.

The inspiration for her exotic murals?

"Animal planet," Carver said.

After completing her murals last winter, Carver held an open house for family and close friends. She said she hopes to enter a regional arts crawl in the not too distant future.

And, although she may be out of wall space, don't expect Carver to stop painting anytime soon.

"I'm 70 years old and I should be able to do what I want," Carver said.

Hopefully this time around, she won't forget to eat.