Monday, January 14, 2008

In Memory of Charley

While reviewing the soon-to-be-forgotten New Year's resolutions, and in retrospect of the last year, I'd be remiss not to mention the passing of Cincinnati legend, Charley Harper, on June 6th - an artist that plays a significant role in my youth-hood recognizance.

Prior to hearing the news, Elizabeth and I made a trip home from Savannah, which entailed a few quick pits stops through our favorite Cincinnati locales: Clifton, Hyde Park/Mt. Lookout, Eden Park, Mt. Adams, Downtown & Over-the-Rhine, and the West End (I'm referring to Union Terminal here)...

During these regular stints, our sights are mainly set on the architecture, the ambiance, and the history, but all the while, injecting our own lofty goals for settling into one of these nooks for an eventual, idyllic eternity. Consequently, we find ourselves meandering down lanes that we've trodden a thousand times before, but acting significantly pedestrian with the facile glare of newcomers. This is easy to do when you have genuine, recurring heartache.

Our final stop at the Terminal led us through the register in the gift shop (as usual) with some beloved Cincinnati fare - notably, a Charley Harper mug. We had been perusing the steel-framed poster catalog there, where Harper's work was prominent, which elicited a discussion of his work and our reflections of him in our younger years. My prominent memory was his work for the Cincinnati Nature Center: after occasional trips through tranquility with the family, our terminal destination in the gift shop, where his work was placed liberally. I may be mistaken, but their longtime logo may have been Harper's doing - if not, it's completely reminiscent of his style [unable to find a proper image, I recreated the Center's logo]:

Cincinnati Nature Center logo.
Designed by Charley Harper (this version recreated by me).

Well, its quite unfortunate that such talent, a stalwart of illustrated design and a Cincinnati legend, is resurrected after our loss (though common in the art world). In this I mean that, while of course he has been recognized and respected internationally, it would be more fortunate to reemphasize this notoriety in the living years. For example: Why not continue to bind our city's treasured ancestry through some sort of unionized commercialization to celebrate these storied accomplishments? I understand that this happens already in some instances, such as with the holiday-packaged marketing of Cincinnati's restaurant traditions (Skyline, Larosa's, Graeter's, Montgomery Inn, etc.), or maybe with Borgman's long standing with the Enquirer, but I guess I'm hinting at an older-school philosophy... as with Caroline Williams and the Enquirer. Not much of a difference, to some, but I suppose the finer arts draw finer lines.
Maybe this is the trend in other city centers as well, but I hate to see the fraying - not only with turning structural icons into contemporary shards, but the neglect of local, historical culture...

Anyway, back to center: Harper's illustrations do seem to run into people blindly sometimes, but most in the field know his name, and a recent retrospective of his work, published by artist Todd Oldham, does justice. I might try to add this prize to my possession in a future Christmas' catalog...

Nice tributes here and here.

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