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

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.

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