ArtWorks News

John A. Ruthven’s story resonated with the young artists of ArtWorks

Photo by J. Miles Wolf

Colleen Houston, ArtWorks CEO and artistic director, has released the following statement about the recent passing of Cincinnati’s legendary artist, John A. Ruthven, also known as the 20th Century Audubon. ArtWorks worked with John in partnership with the Cincinnati Nature Center to recreate one of his masterpiece, Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon, as a large outdoor mural at 15 E. Eighth St, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

“At ArtWorks, we are deeply saddened by the loss of one of our local art heroes, John A. Ruthven. John was a true icon, and ArtWorks was honored to work closely with him to recreate his masterpiece, Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon. I recall John brought incredible enthusiasm and energy to the collaboration, and he was eager to do the painting of Martha himself. So John climbed the 7th and 8th-level of our scaffolding for this 6,000-square foot mural during the heat of the summer and completed Martha, the most prominent pigeon in the design. He worked side-by-side with our Youth Apprentices, sharing his dedication and love for art and the beauty of our natural world. He gave a wonderful talk to this group about his own experience as a young man of taking a sketchbook to the Ohio River, fishing and preparing his own lunch over a fire, and drawing from observation the world around him. His story and his commitment to art as a youth inspired the young artists of ArtWorks. He had a great sense of humor and created a special gift for all of the artists when they completed the 2013 mural—custom t-shirts covered in a pigeon poop design, which were treasured keepsakes from this once-in-a-lifetime experience. John had so much zest for life, and it was a great gift to know him. At ArtWorks, our hearts are with all who loved him and his artwork.”

Learn more about the John Ruthven’s Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon mural (2013) Martha, the last passenger pigeon, lived out her last days at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Despite efforts to save what was once the most numerous bird species in America, Martha died in 1914. Almost one hundred years later, Cincinnati remains committed to wildlife preservation thanks to local organizations like the Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Nature Center. This design by Ruthven reproduces an original his masterpiece showing Martha and her flock soaring over the historic Bird Run at the Cincinnati Zoo, and serves as a daily reminder to downtown residents, workers and visitors of the importance of wildlife conservation and the reality of extinction.

Learn more about John A. Ruthven at and from this tribute by his alma mater, the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Time Lapse of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon Mural | Celebrating the Year of John A. Ruthven (2013)

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John Ruthven Does a Little Dance for Cincinnati (2013)

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About ArtWorks

ArtWorks is an award-winning Greater Cincinnati nonprofit that transforms people and places through investments in creativity. The organization creates jobs for youth, ages 14-21 with the majority from underserved households, providing competitive 21st-century career-readiness skills through mentorship by professional artists. Since 1996, ArtWorks has employed more than 3,600 youth and 3,200 creative professionals, and the organization has completed more than 12,500 public and private art projects that include 190 permanent outdoor murals, contributing to the region’s global reputation as an arts destination.