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Bird, Art, American, John Ruthven, Ivory Billed Woodpecker, Large Signed Limited Edition Aquatint, 1974


John A. Ruthven (1924-2020) (after)
Norma Gloria Morgan (b. 1928) (engraver)
Andersen-Lamb (printed and hand-colored)
Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, Campephilus Principalis
Wildlife Internationale, Georgetown, Ohio: 1974
Hand-colored aquatint on Whatman paper
Signed in pencil lower left: John A. Ruthven
Edition numbered in pencil in title block lower left: 252/500
Signed in pencil by individual colorist, lower edge
23.25 x 34.5 inches, image plate mark
27.75 x 42.25 inches, overall

A large print of a pair of ivory-billed woodpeckers facing each other perched on a sycamore tree, with a few twigs from an oak tree entering the composition from the right. The female holds onto the underside of the slanting tree trunk with powerful black claws. The male, with its striking red crest in the upper center of the composition, sits on a tree crotch beside her. Between them, the tree is perforated with holes pecked by the birds. The tree trunk and main branch and the two birds’ heads form dynamic compositional relationships of strong diagonals. This aquatint was produced after a watercolor by ornithological artist John Ruthven as part of a series depicting American birds that were either endangered or extinct. The ivory-billed woodpecker has not been seen in many years. Therefore, this painting documents a species that is possibly extinct and only known to us today from earlier images and museum specimens.

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The large and impressive ivory-billed woodpecker once ranged through the swampy forests of the lower Mississippi Valley, from North Carolina to Florida and west to Arkansas and eastern Texas. There is also a Cuban variant. The population of these birds, which can exceed 20 inches in length and have distinctive bills the hue of pale ivory, has declined due to habitat destruction, to the point that since the mid-20th-century sightings have been extremely rare. The latest reported sightings were in Arkansas in 2005, but those are the subject of scientific controversy, since the bird is easily confused with the pileated woodpecker. In early 2017, a bird enthusiast named Michael Collins presented personal observations and blurry video footage of what he believed to be an ivory-billed woodpecker from the Pearl River along the Mississippi-Louisiana border, which some experts thought intriguing but inconclusive.

John A. Ruthven was a wildlife artist based in his native Ohio, as well as a naturalist, author and lecturer. A major retrospective exhibition of his work at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History was titled “John A. Ruthven — In the Audubon Tradition,” an apt characterization since like John James Audubon, his paintings are the result of careful study of the bird in the field as well as from preserved bird skins. In addition, they are rendered in meticulous accurate detail, including plants from their natural habitat as part of the composition. Indeed, the offered aquatint based on Ruthven’s painting was printed on the same type of paper Audubon used for his Elephant Folio. Ruthven selected the colorists for the aquatints, who provided the additional hand coloring to match his original paintings; they each respectively signed the prints in pencil along the bottom edge.

Ruthven was drafted into the Navy right after high school and served two years during World War II. He was interested in art and was essentially self-taught, also doing some drawing and cartooning for the Navy. After his discharge he opened a commercial art studio in Cincinnati in 1946. In 1960 Ruthven won the Federal Duck Stamp competition, a major prize for a bird artist, which he characterizes as a defining moment for his career, because he was immediately approached by Abercrombie & Fitch to sell his work nationwide. From that point on he was able to devote himself to wildlife art full time. He has also produced works on other natural history subjects, such as mushrooms and other animals. He has traveled around the world on commission to paint wildlife. Ruthven’s works have been exhibited nationally and internationally at both art and natural history museums, including the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York, and the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum in Oradell, New Jersey, and are also in numerous public and corporate collections. In 2004, Ruthven was awarded the National of Medals of Arts by President George W. Bush in a ceremony at the White House. In 2019, the Cincinnati Museum Center published his memoirs.

Norma Gloria Morgan was an engraver and painter known for her printmaking and Expressionist imagery. An African-American artist, she studied at the Arts Student League with Hans Hofmann, and with the renowned printmaker Stanley W. Hayter. Her works are in the collections of major museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She has won numerous awards for her work.

Inscriptions in Title Block: Original Watercolour by John A Ruthven. 252/500. Engraved by Norma Morgan. Printed by Andersen-Lamb (Hand-coloured), New York. Published by Wildlife Internationale, Georgetown, Ohio, U.S.A. © 1974.

Condition: Generally fine overall with only minor handling. Usual light cockling of paper expected for a print of this size should flatten when framed. Signed by Ruthven in pencil.  Also signed by the colorist, bottom left edge.


“CET Express – John Ruthven.” Cincinnati Public Media. 13 July 2006. (5 September 2008).

Hollister, Dean, Amy I. Furman, Mary Bruccoli and Tamara Adams, eds. Who’s Who in American Art. New York: R.R. Bowker, 1989. p. 746.

“John A. Ruthven — The 20th Century Audubon.” (30 August 2018).

“John Ruthven, master wildlife artist, naturalist, philanthropist, dead at 95.” Cincinnati Enquirer. 12 October 2020. (13 October 2020).

“Norma Gloria Morgan.” 2000-2008. (8 September 2008).

“Passenger pigeon.” Wikipedia. 1 September 2018. (4 September 2018).