charley harper: an illustrated life

by Grace Bonney

a few weeks ago i was walking the aisles at the stationery show and one of the most surreal events of my life took place. my cell phone rang and todd oldham was on the other end. instantly my head was filled with visions of afternoons spent in front of the tv watching todd and cindy crawford on house of style. todd is such a fixture of my memories when it comes to design that i just about passed out. as it was he was calling to talk about a new project of his, a book on the life and work of charley harper. i’ve heard about a lot of projects over the past 3 years but it’s not often that you hear someone discuss something with the sort of passion that comes only from truly living and breathing a project. todd discussed mr. harper’s work with such reverence and admiration, it was easy to see why he would embark upon a book celebrating his career and dedication to art.

charley harper: an illustrated life hit shelves just a few days ago and i felt i’d be remiss not to mention it here. i’ve been scrolling through the preview site this weekend and was really taken with the sweetness in mr. harper’s illustrations. harper, 84, still works in his hometown of cincinnati and his love of nature and wildlife comes through in such a delicate, genuine way. i’ve mentioned some of his pieces before (i especially loved his cardinals and ladybugs) but it’s lovely to see so many of his works together along with photos of the artist himself. i think a lot of you will enjoy the book so if you’re interested, you can click here to check out a preview of the book itself. you can find more information right here and shop online at ammo books or amazon . ammo also offers a limited edition copy for $400 that includes a gorgeous silkscreened print by charley harper. hope you enjoy.

[UPDATE: in sad news, it appears that mr. harper passed away this weekend.]

Suggested For You


  • Did you say something cool like – “No really, who IS this?”. I love when people who are currently successful take time to pay homage to those who came before and are inspirations. Sounds like a great book to check out!

  • When I was a kid in the 70s, my parents had several prints by both Charles and Edie Harper hanging on the wall. I wish I knew where they are now. seeing his work brings back memoiries. I’ll have to get a copy of the book.

  • Unfortunetly, Mr. Harper passed away yesterday. He will be greatly missed in the art world and in Cincinnati.

  • i must have this book–it looks so beautiful. i wish i had $400 to spare for that limited edition book & print.

    what a great project. give todd my best! ;) ha.

  • so sad he passed away this weekend. his work looks so familiar of all the pieces that are out there today like the jellyfish, and crabs and the human vertabrae. this is so interesting.

  • i’m sure he would have been thrilled at 84 to have his work celebrated by the design lovers of today. it’s nice that your post came as a kind of a tribute to an art-filled life.

  • I *love* Charley Harper. I own several prints and they are among my most treasured possessions. His work makes me smile.

    So sad to hear of his death.

    I’m eager to see the book, though I’m not sure I can justify the expense right now. If any of my richer friends is reading this, my birthday is January 14 (hint, hint!)

  • I’m sad to hear of Mr. Harper’s passing but am pleased that he was able to experience the resurgence in the admiration of his work. Growing up in Cincinnati, I was fascinated by the posters he designed for the city’s park system—so intricate and stylized in such a unique way. He will be missed…

  • I’m from Cincinnati, and have long loved the posters Charley Harper has produced for local events and institutions, especially the Cincinnati Nature Center and Park Services (of course). The other (cheaper) book about his work, _Beguiled by the Wild_, is worth picking up if you can’t afford to spring for Todd Oldham’s. And if you’re ever in Cincinnati, stop by Fabulous Frames just to look at his work in the flesh! Very nice folks staff the place and have been handling his images for years and years.

  • I grew up in the Cincinnati area and my family doctor’s office was practically papered with Charley Harper prints. (And Robin–my mom, a former graphic designer who loved Harper’s stuff too, went back to work at Fabulous Frames right before I went to college.)

  • My favorite thing about his work is that it satisfied my scientist Mom, who is very literal about her wildlife art–if it isn’t anatomically accurate, it isn’t right. He managed to abstract animals w/out sacrificing nature’s particularity. Said scientist mom made an insanely beautiful embroidered pillow years ago, combining various Harper birds onto one bird feeder–if it hadn’t taken her a year and a day to make i would tell her to market ’em…

  • I have to second Robin’s recommendation of Beguiled by the Wild, and there’s another book that may be of interest to Harper fans for whom An Illustrated Life is out of reach — Birds & Words, which pairs his bird illustrations with the funny, punny captions that were one of his hallmarks. Also, there is a recently released ABC book that collects various animal images in the familiar ABC format.

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.