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Cincinnati Museum Center honors artist-activist Harper with prestigious award

Exhibition showcasing artwork and call to action to open this summer

CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) announced today it will honor artist and activist Charley Harper with the 2020 John A. Ruthven Medal of Distinction. The announcement comes on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a timely tribute to an artist and activist inspired by the world around him. CMC will further celebrate the beloved artist with an exhibition of his artwork this summer.

“Charley Harper was a brilliant talent who illustrated the natural world with a deep sense of awe and appreciation and a most delightful wit,” said Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “Through line, form and color Charley inspires us to protect the natural world beyond our human interests; a world inhabited by charming and cheeky critters imbued with personality and heart.”

CMC’s John A. Ruthven Medal of Distinction is awarded to those personally contributing to the fields of natural history and science and to CMC’s collection and research programs. Part of the criteria for the award is that its recipients further the preservation, research and advocacy of natural history in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Born and raised on a farm in West Virginia, Harper (1922 – 2007) developed a love of animals early in life. He was a graduate of the Cincinnati Art Academy in 1947, where he also taught for a number of years. But Harper was not interested in realism like so many other artists. He revealed the natural world through highly stylized geometric reduction and imagined the similarities between human and wild animal behaviors. With each work of art he created, Harper included a short story that serves as a window into his wit and unique view on the natural world, as well as his environmentalist concerns. He believed humor made it easier to encourage changes in our attitudes toward environmental concerns. Like the beauty of nature, Harper’s artwork is all around us – on buildings, mugs, tote bags, postcards and countless home and office walls – and his message is as important as ever today.

“Charley and Edie were great friends of mine from our days at the Art Academy following WWII forward,” said fellow artist John A. Ruthven. “While our artistic styles were different, we blended beautifully together, both captivated by nature. I liked to count the feathers while Charley liked to count the wings.”

Thirty of Harper’s works will be displayed in Inspired by Nature: The Art and Activism of Charley Harper, an exhibition produced by CMC using artwork from its collections and the collection of select donors. The exhibition is more than an art gallery. As Harper did through his artwork, the exhibition will challenge guests to confront alarming issues threatening the Earth and its inhabitants, including global warming, water pollution and habitat destruction. Text written by Harper himself will accompany each piece, offering a cheeky quip about the realities of the wild or a stark message for future – now current – generations facing serious environmental issues. Inspired by Nature is scheduled to open this summer.

Earth Day 50th Anniversary

CMC is celebrating Earth Day by showcasing the work of its researchers and curators through blogs and videos and programming that encourages people to get outside to explore the nature in their own backyards all in an effort to inspire a new generation of conservationists and activists.

CMC is also encouraging people to tune in to the Smithsonian Institution’s 2020 Earth Optimism Digital Summit from April 22 – 24. The Earth Optimism initiative aims to fundamentally shift how people frame the narrative around our planet – from doom and gloom to optimism and opportunity. The Earth Optimism initiative was started in 2017 through a partnership between the Smithsonian Institution and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative. Earth Optimism does not dispute or downplay the critical need for conservation, but encourages action through hope and celebrates the many conservation successes that are not yet widely appreciated.


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 1.8 million visits annually. For more information, visit