In his lifetime, Cincinnati-based illustrator Charley Harper’s birds fluttered from magazine covers. His ladybugs crawled all over books and such.

And yet, as hugely popular as his work became, he as a purist declined to allow his artwork to be commercialized.

Now, a decade after his death at the age of 84, his creations have landed on mobiles, puzzles, glassware, upscale tiles and more. And also on the walls of the 506 Gallery inside the Columbus Area Visitors Center.

“It seems to apply very well across a broad range and spectrum (of items),” said Jan Banister, curator at the local space. “Even though there is so much of it, and even though it’s so readily available, I don’t feel at all that it’s overdone.

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“It really works well, product-wise — the cleanliness of it, the color, the pattern repeats, the whimsy. It still seems to have retained a kind of universal appeal,” Banister added.

The local exhibit opening Monday and running through October will feature vintage Harper prints, including serigraphs, lithographs, Ford (Motor Co.) Times prints and rare collectibles from the collection of Larry Smith and Circle City Frames in Indianapolis. An opening reception is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 14.

Smith bought his first Harper serigraph in 2007 at an antique store in Florida.

“That first purchase started an obsession that continues to this day,” Smith said in notes he has made about his collection. “Sadly, upon returning home with my new found treasures, Charley had just passed, and I would never meet the man who would influence my life in many ways.”

Harper became known especially for what he labeled his “minimal realism,” using the fewest possible visual elements.

“Some people liked it and others didn’t care for it,” Harper once said. “There’s some who want to count all the feathers in the wings and then others who never think about counting the feathers, like me.”

Banister said she loves the fact that Harper’s Modernist-style work can be featured during the Modernist celebration known as Exhibit Columbus.

“I wanted to have something that would be really recognizable,” Banister said. “And I wanted something that would complement Exhibit Columbus. His work and its simple shapes just fits all this.

“He uses some of the same ideas (as Modernist designers). He’s just expressing them in a different way because he’s not constructing a building,” she added.

At a glance

What: Exhibition of late illustrator Charley Harper’s work in the form of prints, including serigraphs, lithographs, Ford (Motor Co.) Times prints and rare collectibles from the collection of Larry Smith and Circle City Frames in Indianapolis.

When: Monday through Oct. 31.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Gallery 506 at the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.

Admission: Free.

Information: 812-378-2622 or columbus.in.us

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.