Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper


Count the Wings: The Life and Art of Charley Harper, Michelle Houts, Biographies for Young Readers, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio.

Charles Harper was a farm boy from Upshur County, WV.  Without ever knowing any artists in his childhood, he knew he wanted to be an artist, to capture the world all around him with color and line and wit.

Charley grew up on a farm near Frenchton, then lived above the hardware store in downtown French Creek. He attended West Virginia Wesleyan College for one year then moved to Cincinnati where he spent the rest of his life (1940-2007) as an artist, never forgetting the hills of home.

Charley’s style is cocky and colorful. He sees the world of cardinals and ladybugs and racoons with whimsy and flair. Todd Wilkinson writing in Wildlife Art News says of Charley Harper, “There’s a pinch of Dr. Seuss, a sprinkling of Dr. Doolittle, and maybe a moral or two lifted from the pages of Aesop in Harper’s world view.”

Charley Harper is all around these days. There are five shops in Cincinnati solely featuring Harper’s prints, posters, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, pajamas and tea cups. You can find him on Amazon. Now there is this charming book.

I am so glad that my mother, Lois (Flanagan) Almond, introduced me to Charley early on. He was in Mom’s English class at Wesleyan and my sister Beth treasures his drawing of Mom and all the Christmas cards of raccoons that came each year from the Harper home to the Almond home.

Portrait of Lois (Flanagan) Almond by Charley Harper. The inscription reads: From the guy whose name comes after yours in Bible class – Charley.

In 1949, The Ford Times began featuring his artwork and writings. I remember that perky little magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. Charley’s art was unique, plus he was one of us.

Have you seen the 15 or so silk screen works of art in the library at Wesleyan? Did you know that Hallie Lou Hallam collected many of his works, then after her death they went on sale at Buckhannon’s Main Street Antiques? The cost of each was approximately $300. My husband, Thom, and I would go and lovingly look at them as the price started down. When the cost got to $50, we bought nine, which we gave as Christmas gifts to sons and siblings, saving three of our favorites for our home on Victoria Hill.

“The Wedding Feast” by Charley Harper

Thom’s favorite got away, but we can go up to our friends’ home to look at The Wedding Feast, a red rose with two praying mantises in front. But, wait, there’s only one head! I know—I have strange taste in my friends, in my husband and in my favorite artist.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the book.

I’ve asked Noel Tenney, Mr. Upshur County Historian, to give us a tour of Charley Harper’s home place in the Spring.  I’ll be writing about our adventure for Appalachian Views, so stay tuned to see updates.

K lives in her homeplace, on Victoria Hill in Buckhannon, WV with her husband Thom Keely, her dog Patches, and her two cats, Nada and Franny. She has been a teacher, a preacher, and now she is a poet.