Ruthven’s memoirs will chronicle his love of art and nature

John Ruthven

John Ruthven

Cincinnati Museum Center plans to publish the memoirs of John A. Ruthven, one of the nation’s foremost wildlife artists, next year.

“In my lifetime, Cincinnati Museum Center and its predecessor organizations have been instrumental in helping me pursue and realize the dreams I had as a young boy,” Ruthven said. “The institution continues to have that impact today, and I hope my memoirs will help another child pursue their love of nature and be a positive force in its conservation.”

Ruthven has a long history with CMC, beginning when he was a boy in the 1930s. He regularly  visited the Natural History Museum at its location in the Ohio Mechanics Institute on Central Parkway. At 10, Ruthven took his first specimen to the museum – a hummingbird he had found dead and hoped might be of interest. Since then, he has given the museum hundreds of specimens from around the world.

What endeared Ruthven to former museum director Ralph Dury was the delivery of the Brant Collection containing thousands of bird specimens. On the eve of its sale, Ruthven had negotiated the transfer of the collection from the University of Cincinnati, ensuring the priceless asset would remain in the city.

Ruthven served with the Navy in World War II, returning home to study at the Cincinnati Art Academy and open his art studio. CMC’s collections served as a valuable resource, allowing Ruthven to use real bird specimens for his work.

A longtime member of the Explorers Club, Ruthven has followed his love of nature on expeditions around the globe. He persuaded the board of the Natural History Museum that it  not only should present the results of research but also actively engage in scientific research. The museum organized a trip to the Philippines, accompanied by Ruthven, where the Panay-striped Babbler, a bird new to science, was discovered. His original watercolor painting of the bird is on display at CMC.

‘Kathy’s Birdhouse’ by John Ruthven

“The highest compliment that I can pay to John Ruthven is to call him the 20th century Audubon, a premier painter of wildlife that imbues his subjects with life and exquisite detail,” said Elizabeth Pierce, CMC’s president and CEO. “John has been an advocate and resource for Cincinnati Museum Center his entire life, and we are thrilled to help him share his story.”

Throughout his career, Ruthven’s watercolor paintings have garnered accolades. His “Redhead Ducks” painting won the 1960-1961 Federal Duck Stamp competition. He has been commissioned for artwork on behalf of the state of Ohio, including the 1996 and 2016 license plates. In 2004. he became the first wildlife artist to receive the National Medal of the Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Recently, Ruthven was commissioned to create a piece for the United Service Organization. The acrylic painting, titled “Wings of Freedom,” featured a bald eagle in front of a waving American flag. A limited number of 1,000 signed prints were sold.

Cincinnatians may be most familiar with Ruthven’s three-story “Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon” mural at the corner of Vine and Seventh streets. The original painting was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s death, and the extinction of the species. ArtWorks headed the project and Ruthven climbed the scaffolding with student artists to create the tribute.

‘Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon’

The publication of Ruthven’s memoirs in 2019 will coincide with both the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Western History Society and the 200th anniversary of Audubon’s tenure as its first salaried employee. In celebration of Audubon’s legacy with the museum, CMC plans an exhibition featuring works from Audubon, Ruthven and contemporary artists inspired by their styles and legacies. It will open in the fall of 2019.

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