You have to love a man who, after creating this crow in a snow field, says of it:
Crows are black birds and blackbirds are also, but a crow in the snow is so much the more so. If you’re pro-crow you proclaim his intellect, his resourcefulness, and the visual poetry of his somber silhouette on the calligraphy of the cornfield. But if it’s your cornfield, you have good caws to compose creative crowfanities when he arrives. Think of it as sharecropping: he gets the grasshoppers, you get the corn, and the few ears missed in the harvest are held in, well–escrow.
Ready to send your Valentine’s Day cards? Here is “Vowlentine.”
Or how about “Herondipity?” On the back of this card we learn that male and female herons are almost identical which means it is easy to be “herroneous” when guessing their gender.
Here is his “Wings of the World.” If you are a birder, see how many you can identify. If you are not a birder, see how many you can count. Birder or not, you can revel in the art.
Mr. Harper was an artist of nature, most often birds. He died last year. Mr. Harper got his full quotient of years on the planet, dying at the age of 84 and leaving behind a large body of joyous, modernistic nature art.
He was John J. Audubon and Louis Agassiz Fuertes, updated. Calling himself a “minimal realist,” he reduced his subjects to the simplest visual terms he could. He said of himself that he counted only wings, not feathers when he drew. According to him, he was a lousy birdwatcher.
I found a bird guide by Don Eckelberry and realized that was all I needed–those birds didn’t move. I’m the world’s worst bird watcher. That’s my dirty little secret. I do all my bird watching in bird guides.
Which is better than shooting them, like Audubon did, you have to admit.
Born on a farm in West Virginia, he spent most of his life in Cincinnati. His publishing career started in the 1950’s when his illustrations appeared in Ford Times. His writing started at that magazine as well when he took over the job of captioning the little magazine from E.B. White.
Here is “We Think the World of Birds” a work he did for the Cornell Ornithological Laboratory.
Of this piece he said,
It occurred to me that I could make the world the shape of an egg, and then make the trees upside-down eggs–a visual pun. After that, there was just the matter of putting in the birds.
According to an interview at the Cornell site, this was one of the works of his life that most pleased him.
You can find examples of his work on our web site, on the web and in Beguiled by the Wild: The Art of Charley Harper, 1994, Flower Valley Press, Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Here is what he said about it:
If you’re terned off–I mean, “turned” off–by puns, don’t go away. The ol’ punster has terned (make that “turned”) over a new leaf. I promise not to punctuate this paragraph with such punishments as no stone unterned, no U-terns–no more awful puns. Just the facts: a Roseate Tern and some Ruddy Turnstones share a pebbly beach along the ? WAIT! I CAN’T STAND IT ANY LONGER! Ternabout’s fair play. No terning back now. The ol’ punster has passed the point of no retern.
He has indeed. For the rest of us, his death was a tern for the worse.
Update: Febuary 3, 2008. CBS did a story about Charley Harper and Todd Oldham this morning. We posted the link here.