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Cincinnati Museum Center exhibition celebrates history and science through artwork of Audubon, Ruthven and current contemporary artists

A 200-year legacy of discovery immortalized on canvas

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) celebrates 200 years of science inspiring creativity through a special exhibition and the brushstrokes of legendary artists. In the Audubon Tradition: Birds of a Feather displays original artwork from John James Audubon, John A. Ruthven and today’s contemporary wildlife artists. The artwork, along with scientific specimens and historic objects and documents, help tell CMC’s story spanning two centuries. A display of contemporary artwork showcases how Audubon and Ruthven continue to inspire the next generation of wildlife artists. In the Audubon Tradition: Birds of a Feather opens September 13.

The exhibition, as with CMC’s story, starts with Audubon, the institution’s first employee. Audubon accepted a position as taxidermist and background painter for the Western Museum Society in 1819, a move necessitated by Audubon’s bankruptcy. Along with original artwork by Audubon, all four volumes of the original double elephant folio of his Birds of America and one volume of The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, on loan from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, will form the centerpiece of the exhibition’s Audubon gallery. The Cincinnati Art Museum has loaned a daguerreotype portrait of Audubon for display, believed to be the only remaining photograph of the artist.

Almost 100 years after Audubon’s employment with the Western Museum, a young John A. Ruthven made his first donation to the museum – a hummingbird specimen. Audubon was an inspiration to Ruthven, who shared the 19th-century artist’s love for nature and strict dedication to realism. Over the decades that followed, Ruthven would find his own fame as a wildlife artist, painting for presidents, world leaders and one of America’s great heroes – Neil Armstrong. Examples of rare birds painted by both Audubon and Ruthven, such as the now-extinct Great Auk, will also be on display, a dynamic blend of science and history.

“The influence of both Audubon and Ruthven on Cincinnati Museum Center over two centuries is remarkable,” says Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “It’s an honor to celebrate the legacy of two legendary artists who inspire a love of nature and scientific discovery in so many generations.”

Audubon’s and Ruthven’s influence on the next generation of wildlife artists is showcased in a section of contemporary art, supported by the Susan Kathleen Black Foundation. The collection of 250 new pieces by 81 of North America’s top wildlife artists includes traditional canvas paintings and watercolors, miniatures the size of postcards, life-size bronze sculptures and mixed medium pieces such as scenes carved into feathers. The contemporary artwork is available for sale and a portion of the proceeds will go to support the care and preservation of CMC’s collections.

“This milestone exhibition celebrates the contributions of Audubon and Ruthven to Cincinnati Museum Center, one of the oldest science institutions in North America,” says DeVere Burt, emeritus director of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and guest curator of In the Audubon Tradition. “Ruthven’s 84-year association with Cincinnati Museum Center is showcased with a display of his major works and memorabilia from his life and extraordinary career. Along with the contemporary art and Audubon’s amazing achievement Birds of America, it is an extraordinary assemblage of talent and creativity, inspired by nature and forever tied to Cincinnati.”

In the Audubon Tradition: Birds of a Feather opens September 13, 2019 and will run through January 5, 2020. The exhibition is free for CMC Members or included with general museum admission. For more information visit

CMC is grateful for the following individuals and organizations for loaning objects and artwork to the exhibition: Gordon F. Brunner; Cincinnati Art Museum; Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden; Mrs. William A. Friendlander; Mrs. Philip O. Geier, Jr.; David Hausrath; Northern Kentucky University; Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County; Queen City Club; John A. Ruthven; University Club; and Jeffrey S. Waddell.

An evening honoring John A. Ruthven will celebrate the legendary artist Thursday, September 12, 2019. Co-chaired by Ricki Ruthven, Shannon Carter and Louise Head, the evening will include an exhibition opening for In the Audubon Tradition: Birds of a Feather and the inaugural ceremony presenting the John A. Ruthven Medal of Distinction. Visit for tickets and table pricing.

CMC is grateful for the support of Mark and Wendy Armstrong; Bill and Kathy Bahl; Phyllis R. Brower; Anne and William Burleigh Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation; DeVere and Pat Burt; Lee and Shannon Carter; the Castellini Foundation; Edward Castleberry; the Helen G., Henry F. & Louise Tuechter Dornette Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; Anne G. & Robert W. Dorsey Family Foundation; Mrs. Charles M. Drackett, Sr.; the Thomas J. Emery Memorial; the Farmer Family Foundation; Kay Copelin French; Naomi and Bob Gerwin; Priscilla Haffner; Louise Head; the Heidt Family Foundation; the Helms Foundation, Leonard A. Weakley, Jr., Trustee; the Austin E. Knowlton Foundation; Stephen Lee; The Kroger Company; Landor Associates; Whitney and Phillip Long; the Portman Family; Ricki Ruthven and Steve Halpern; the Harold C. Schott Foundation, Tom and Francie Hiltz, Trustees; Irwin and Melinda Simon; Taft Law; Anne Drackett Thomas; Western & Southern Financial Group; and Ronald W. and Suzanne P. Zesch for making In the Audubon Tradition: Birds of a Feather, an evening with John A. Ruthven, the John A. Ruthven Medal of Distinction and the upcoming John A. Ruthven Edge of Appalachia Gallery possible.


About Cincinnati Museum Center
Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) at Union Terminal is a nationally recognized institution and national historic landmark. Dedicated to sparking community dialogue, insight and inspiration, CMC was awarded the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2012. CMC is one of a select few museums in the nation with both of these honors, making it a unique asset and a vital community resource. Union Terminal has been voted the nation's 45th most important building by the American Institute of Architects. Organizations within CMC include the Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children's Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater and Cincinnati History Library & Archives. Recognized by Forbes Traveler Magazine as the 17th most visited museum in the country, CMC welcomes more than one million visitors annually. For more information, visit