Monday, February 4, 2008

The Art of Charley Harper

Why do I always like such expensive things? Gardening can cost quite a lot of money if you consider all the ways that it can get you in trouble in addition to just buying seeds and plants. There are the tools and clogs and gloves and hats and garden whimsy. And related books and art.

I've wanted Emily Dickinson's Herbarium for quite some time. It's $125 ($101 at Amazon). And now I've seen something even more pricey - Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life by Todd Oldham, listed at $200 ($126 at Amazon). Both are undoubtedly worth every penny.

When Mom and I went to the Cincinnati Flower Show last May, we came across a vendor's booth featuring the art of Charley Harper. We both loved it and we purchased some note cards. I was given a catalog with my purchase and in looking through it, saw so many wonderful things, I couldn't stand it. Called "modern minimalist," Charley's style appeals to my love of contemporary art in every way, with his use of clean, geometric lines and pure colors.

Little did we know that less than a month after we'd attended the show, Charley would pass away due to pneumonia at the age of 84. I learned of this on Sunday, as I was watching CBS Sunday Morning. A segment was about the works of Charley Harper and the unique friendship the designer Todd Oldham developed with Charley over the years, even though there was quite a difference in their ages. Oldham had a book he had loved as a child that was illustrated by Harper and when he became an adult, he tracked him down, finding him in Cincinnati.

Over the course of the years of their relationship, Oldham assembled a collection of over 700 works of Charley Harper's art and published them as a book. This book has 424 pages and weighs nearly 12 pounds!

There are other books that Harper himself has published that are less expensive and I think I'll spring for one of those. I plan to get one of my notecards framed. It's of a cat, of course, entitled "Birdwatcher." Charley's wife, Edie is an artist also and the other notecard I bought is one of her pieces. It's also of a cat, entitled "For You." She creates in a similar geometric style, but with slightly softer edges. I love his birds, too, and I'd like to have a larger print of one of those


Ah Charley, I hardly knew ye but my love of gardening led me to your art and I'm grateful, even if it was late in the game. You've left a legacy for us to enjoy forever.


Beguiled By the Wild
by Charley Harper

$29.97 at

Charley Harper's Birds & Words
by Charley Harper

$18.45 at

For more of Charley Harper's art,
visit Fabulous Frames & Art in Cincinnati.

Photo of Charley Harper from


Lisa at Greenbow said...

Hmmmm I have never heard of Charley Harper. Beautiful work.

Earth Girl said...

Wow! I love his work. Thanks for sharing.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I also have never b4 seen his artwork - I like it. Thanks for introducing me to this artist.

kate said...

Gardening is an expensive pursuit, especially when books and apparel are added to the total cost.

Charley Harper's books look as if they are well worth buying. One of these days maybe the Todd Oldham book will be on sale and you can nab it then.

What beautiful artwork.

Shady Gardener said...

I'd never heard of Charlie Harper, so I headed straight for Amazon. Almost bought them all (except for the most expensive one)! I'll have to figure out which one I want. :-)

The birdwatcher print looks like your cat!

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

What lovely pieces! No wonder you love his work so much. What a shame that you discovered him so late in his life. Now all of his work will be much more expensive simply because he's no longer here to produce more. Lucky for collectors that already had his work but not so great for you who still wants to acquire it.

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Kerri said...

I can see why you want to frame that notecard - it's wonderful! I'll be checking out more of Charlie Harper's work. He sure had talent.

Anonymous said...

I became acquainted with Charley Harper's work in the late 70's, giving 'Lovey Dovey' to my parents as an anniversary gift. They were nature lovers and I was excited about picking out mattes to set off the print.

Dad bequeathed this about a year ago to me after his second wife's passing, also a Cincinnati artist, Georgia Armstrong Askew, who knew Charley. I live out west, the work on my living room walls hits on several planes as a connection to home.

I recently reaquired the Charlie Harper bug in searching for Valentine's gifts. I am anxious to receive these prints to repeat picking out mattes, expressing my sense of minimalism and humor, just like Charley. He executed his subjects with tones both of mannerisms and color.

Mary said...

I absolutely adore Charles Harper's artwork and was very saddened by his death. I have many of his prints and nature posters and a mug to drink my tea from with one of Charley's cheerful cardinals on it. You can get Christmas ornaments, too! His geometric perspective of wildlife and the humor he injects into every picture is so great. He will be missed by many

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