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 is 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 in a ceremony at the White House.
Norma Gloria Morgan is 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. Signed by Ruthven in pencil. Also signed by the colorist, bottom left edge.
“About the Ivory-bill.” Cornell University: The Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. 2018. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/aboutibwo/ (30 August 2018).
“CET Express – John Ruthven.” Cincinnati Public Media. 13 July 2006. http://www.cetconnect.org/genericPlayer.asp?id=417 (5 September 2008).
Donahue, Michelle. “Possible Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Footage Breathes Life Into Extinction Debate.” Audubon. 25 January 2017. (30 August 2018).
Eckholm, Erik. “Woodpecker, Believed Extinct, Seen in Cuba.” New York Times. 5 May 1986. p. A1.
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.” Ruthven.com. http://ruthven.com/about-me/ (30 August 2018).
“Norma Gloria Morgan.” AskArt.com. 2000-2008. http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/search/ArtistKeywords.aspx?artist=106989 (8 September 2008).