‘Art of Nature’ comes to Aullwood

Nature lovers will have a rare opportunity to meet-and-greet some of the nation’s most outstanding and collectible wildlife artists when Aullwood Audubon Center hosts its upcoming gala and exhibit.

Director Charity Krueger can’t contain herself.

“It’s one of the most remarkable events that has ever happened at Aullwood!” says Krueger about the opening night party on Saturday evening, March 22 and the new exhibit, entitled “The Art of Nature.” The show will officially open Sunday, March 23, and will run through May 26.

The headliner for the special weekend is John Ruthven, the legendary artist who has been dubbed the modern John James Audubon. He’s the recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Arts and will be joined at Aullwood by nine renowned Cincinnati artists.

All are members of a unique organization entitled Masterworks for Nature. Featured artists are John Agnew, DeVere Burt, Linda Bittner, Gary Denzler, Nancy Foureman, Ann Geise, Mary Louise Holt, Debbie Lentz, John Ruthven, Chris Walden and the late Charley Harper.

“All of these artists are dedicated to conservation, dedicated to raising money for nonprofits like Aullwood that support conservation and educational work,” Krueger explains. “Several of them have gone to Africa and created magnificent paintings, then donated the proceeds to help preserve animals such as lions and elephants.”

A gala kick off

The weekend begins with a festive Saturday night gala during which patrons will have the chance to meet the artists who will be located near their work. Guests will also have the opportunity to watch these artists in action — painting, drawing, carving — then bid on the resulting signed art.

“How often do you get to stand next to a penguin, or see a macaw fly over your head with a wingspan of five feet?” asks Krueger, referring to the birds from the Cincinnati Zoo that will make a special appearance at the event.

Exhibit opening

A number of the artists will return to Dayton the following day for the exhibit opening. Watercolor, acrylic and oil paintings and wood carvings will be on display — all depicting wildlife, birds and landscapes.

The work is for sale, with prices ranging from $100 to $10,000. The artists come from throughout our area — Cincinnati, Greenville, Batavia, Lebanon, Centerville, Georgetown. They’re all professionals with national or international reputations and they’re all good friends.

“Many of us have participated in exhibits around the country and have learned that it’s very rare to have a group of well- known, established artists that all share the same interests and goals in such a small geographic area,” says Mary Lou Holt who was instrumental in organizing this exhibit. ” We meet regularly throughout the year to support each other, share our latest adventures and plan new projects like Aullwood.”

Holt, who has a background in natural history, says her interest is in recreating on canvas what the natural world looked like before European settlement.

“I think it’s important to create images of the land, plants, animals and Native Americans,” she explains.

Talking with Ruthven

At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 23, John Ruthven will tell the story of Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon in existence who died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914. Ruthven, whose latest painting is of Martha, was instrumental creating the memorial you’ve probably seen at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The famous artist, now 89, continues to live and work in the historic house on the 165 acres of land he purchased in Georgetown, Ohio, 50 years ago.

“I am sitting on a log in middle of my woods enjoying a cardinal dancing on a branch in front of me,” said Ruthven when I reached him by phone. ” I still get full kick out of every day.”

Ruthven says he should have been going down Ohio River with James Audubon, or on the Voyage of Disvery with Lewis and Clark.

“When I grew up, my mother and father allowed me the freedom to dream,” he says. “I used to walk seven miles to the Ohio River and look out at that great expanse of river with my sketchbook. For me, nature is the most permanent thing I could think of.”

His family and teachers always encouraged his artistic ability and interest in art.

“I had a wonderful childhood,” Ruthven says. “We had no money but there was lots of love at home and school.”

Best known for his magnificent paintings of birds, Ruthven says he paints what people love.

“I have also done foxes and wolves, but birds are everywhere. People are close to them because they have backyard feeders. People go on safaris now and Africa has gigantic bird populations.”

Ruthven said he and others areon the trail of the ivory bill woodpecker. He was asked by the Secretary of the Interior to come to Washington and be part of a group that’s in search of the endangered bird and makes an annual trip to the Florida Panhandle where the bird was last spotted.

Ruthven believes the most important trait for an artist is perseverance.

“Every artist goes through some starving artist time, but I had a vision to persevere regardless of misfortunes,” he says.

One of his closest artist friends was the late Charley Harper who will be represented in the Aullwood exhibit and who helped to start the Masterworks for Nature organization. Harper is known internationally for the distinctive style he labeled “minimal realism.”

“He was a wonderful man, part of our group, and we were both GIs in World War II,” says Ruthven. “He was a good friend and it was an honor to know him. “

Ruthven said the two enjoyed doing speaking engagements together.

“They would call it the Charley and John Show,” he says. “Charley would say: “I paint wings and John paints feathers.”

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