Renowned Wildlife Artist John Ruthven Dies At 95

Oct 12, 2020

Editor's note: Famed wildlife artist John Ruthven has died. Known as the the "20th Century Audubon" for his depictions of birds, wildlife and flora, Ruthven died Sunday, Oct. 11. He was 95.

Some of Ruthven's works are currently on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center as part of the exhibit In the Audubon Tradition: Birds of A Feather. In this piece from 2019, he spoke with WVXU's Tana Weingartner after receiving a conservation award from Great Parks of Hamilton County.

John Ruthven's paintings have been displayed and treasured by collectors around the world. For his art and dedication to nature, Great Parks of Hamilton County is honoring Ruthven with its Conservation Award.

Ruthven, 94, received the award in person Thursday during the park district's board meeting.

Great Parks CEO Jack Sutton holds up a flyer for the 1973 parks levy featuring artist John Ruthven's chipmunk painting.
Credit Nikki Ferrell / Great Parks of Hamilton County

"It's a great pleasure," Ruthven tells WVXU of receiving the honor. "I had no idea that I was going to be in this position but the parks have always been close to my heart. I grew up in Cincinnati and Hamilton County and so to be associated with these parks and receive this honor is a very significant thing for me."

The Cincinnati-born artist and naturalist is beloved for his work depicting birds, wildlife and flora, and is known as the "20th century Audubon," a reference to famed painter and ornithologist John James Audubon.

Ruthven lived in Walnut Hills as a child and his family didn't own a car. While he enjoyed the city parks nearby and got his start making drawings in places like Eden and Ault parks, trips to Sharon Woods were a rare and special treat. It remains his favorite county park.

"It has all that water," he says. "I'm a big duck fancier and I could always find some waterfowl on the water around there."

Ruthven donated this painting, titled "The Future's In Your Hands," to the park system to bolster the 1973 levy campaign. He used his own left hand as a model, he told the Great Parks board while being honored March 21, 2019.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Ruthven's formal relationship with Great Parks began in 1973 when he donated an original painting of a chipmunk to the park district for use promoting the successful 1973 park levy campaign. Though Ruthven says he crafted the painting at Woodland Mound, it, fittingly, is displayed at Sharon Centre in Sharon Woods.

Great Parks CEO Jack Sutton heralds Ruthven as a longtime friend of the county park system and all regional groups that protect and preserve natural resources.

"He's been a lifelong leader in the community in terms of recognizing the importance of conservation," Sutton says. "We wanted to recognize John and say 'thank you for being our friend; thank you for doing what you do for the community.' He's such a support and ally to everyone in the natural resource community."

John Ruthven, center, holds the proclamation honoring him with the Great Parks of Hamilton County Conservation Award. Also pictured, Great Parks CEO Jack Sutton (left) and board member William J. Burwinkel.
Credit Nikki Ferrell / Great Parks of Hamilton County

This story was first published March 21, 2019.