(American, b. 1925)
Ray Harm is the co-founder of the modern limited edition print industry in America and has been a nationally known wildlife artist for over 30 years. This has been documented by the Filson Historical Society quarterly journal 4/98 Vol.72 No.2.
Harm’s parents were both concert violinists in the 1920’s so music has been a significant influence in his life and he learned several instruments from an early age. Born in the mid twenties in West Virginia Ray’s childhood was imbued with his father’s late work and study as an herbalist and naturalist digging and selling herbs on the pharmaceutical market. The stock market crash in ’29 had forced his father off of the concert tour and back to West Virginia to an earlier interest in herbal medicine. The young man was strongly tutored in the ways of nature by his woodsman/naturalist father.
In his mid teens he went west to work as a cowboy on cattle ranches, rode the rodeo circuit in the buss and bronco riding events, and when he won enough to purchase a roping horse and trailer, competed as a calf roper. He even satisfied a dream that many youngsters have by working with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus, then a tent show, training horses. Always he sought the outdoor life and work with animals.
Three years of Navy service made him eligible for the GI Bill of World War II and later, after more cowboying on the ranches, he chose Art School in 1948. As he puts it “at least some kinda schooling would make my mom proud.” Proud indeed, with only six grades of public school, today he holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from five colleges and Universities where he lectures regularly. Making a living as a wildlife artist in the early 1950’s was not easy! This was when limited edition reproduction prints, as we know them today, did not yet exist and selling original paintings, one by one, was a very difficult way to make a living, especially when just out of art school and unrecognized. It was a struggle for some nine years as he drew heavily from his earlier “roustabout” experiences to support his family, training horses, digging ditches on construction jobs, and driving a truck while trying to establish himself as an artist.
By 1961 Ray had almost given up when he met Wood Hannah, a Louisville businessman and art collector. Hannah became personally interested and together in 1962 they founded a publishing company that was the beginning of the Limited Edition print industry, that opened a market for artists everywhere. This market today supports thousands of artists through the medium of Limited Edition prints and Ray is proud of this. The public acceptance of Ray Harm wildlife prints in an ensuing collection, introduced in Kentucky, spread rapidly from coast to coast. He was in demand as a lecturer, wrote a popular weekly nature column and authored two illustrated books, but his paintings of wildlife remained primary. His pictures are appreciated for being from living animals and wildflowers, sketched on location, not copied photographs (which is so commonly done today). All this coupled with his extensive knowledge of the subjects he paints, he feels, is more the essence of fine art as opposed to commercial illustration.