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A bird in the hand: CHARLEY HARPER

BORN IN 1922, CHARLEY HARPER started out life on a family farm in West Virginia. Farming was not his bailiwick, but his love of nature was established there, and he spent hours avoiding chores by observing bugs, crayfish and the like. After a year of art courses at West Virginia Wesleyan College, he decided to focus seriously on art and transferred to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where he met his future wife, artist Edie McKee. After two years in Cincinnati, he was drafted and spent the last couple years of World War II as a scout in a recon platoon. He continued to draw while stationed in Europe—portraits of fellow soldiers that they sent home to loved ones and of towns his platoon passed through. Returning to Cincinnati at the end of the war, he finished school, married Edie in 1947 and the two of them honeymooned by camping across the country on a traveling scholarship Charley won. He and Edie settled in Roselawn and his first job, at Schaten Studios, taught him the craft of commercial art—color separation, using typography. His flat, hard-edged illustrations lent themselves to the silk screening process, which a co-worker taught him. Although realism was the prevalent painting style he learned at the Art Academy, he began to realize that the style would reveal “nothing about the subject that nature had not done better.” His work became more distilled, minimal, architectural, abstracted, more about shapes and colors. He said there were “some who want to count all the feathers in the wings and then others who never think about counting the feathers, like me.” He is perceived by the art world as a modernist and called his own work “minimal realism.” Although his main focus was the animal kingdom, some of his most charming works illustrate humans going about their business. In 1958 the Harpers built a mid-century modern home in the middle of the woods in Finneytown. Cutting edge by the day’s standards, lean and spare like his artwork, the home was a laboratory in nature, the perfect setting for Charley’s observations and

research. In the International Style, the home is opened to the natural world by a twostory wall of windows. A small studio is connected to the house by a wooden walkway. Art here was a family affair. Edie, Charley and their son Brett all participated in the creative processes of drawing, painting, photography, printing. Brett was recruited at


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Cincinnati Housetrends