Behind the Scenes: The Charley Harper connection

From the November 29, 2012 edition

This weekend, celebrity interior designer Todd Oldham is speaking at the Wexner Center about his latest tome of illustrator Charley Harper’s art works. While the free lecture is certainly worth a Sunday excursion to campus, a framing shop in Grandview provides a Harper fix year-round.

Reed Arts’ building on Fifth Avenue is purple and red and has a giant frame on the outside. The store’s easy-going approach helped attract Harper’s estate in 2010 as it scouted Columbus shops to deem the premiere Charley Harper dealer in Central Ohio. The distinction gives Reed Arts owner Tim O’Neill access to original art the prolific Cincinnati-based Harper, who died in 2007, created throughout his lifetime.

Framed Harper prints are at Reed Arts all year, but every holiday season O’Neill selects nearly 20 original pieces to display at his shop. Last year O’Neill visited Harper’s former Cincinnati home, or “Harper Mecca,” as he called it.

“They’re still finding things in drawers — sketches and notes,” O’Neill said.

Harper created work for biology textbooks, birding magazines and Ford propaganda. One of his first illustration jobs was for “Betty Crocker: Cooking for Two.” There are plenty of originals to choose from.

“I’m still discovering how he worked and you can see that [in this newest exhibit.] I love seeing that process,” O’Neill said. “It’s really fun to look at these originals.”

One he particularly loves is a gouache painting called “A Good World.” A close-up inspection shows white paint used like Wite-Out. It’s fun to guess why Harper changed his mind about, and thus painted over, certain details in the painting.

Bonus: The original artwork on the cover of Oldham’s new book, “Charley Harper’s Animal Kingdom,” is on view at Reed Arts. Go see this colorful slice of art history through December.