Wildlife artist John Ruthven loves to walk. And he loves his L.L.Bean Boots. He has walked in them at least 4 miles a day, covering a total of more than 75,000 miles, over the past 50 years. Along with a sketchpad and pencil, his trusty boots are the only items that always go with him as he wanders his 165-acre farm in Georgetown, Ohio.
When a pair finally reaches its limit, he puts them on display in his barn. “Maybe it sounds crazy, but I wear my boots so much that I grow attached to them,” says Ruthven. “I hang them up to remind me of all the days that I walked. I had my 89th birthday on November 12, and those boots have been a major part of my life.”
Ruthven grew up as a hunter and outdoor enthusiast. “L.L.Bean was part of my lifestyle, and I always loved what it stood for,” he says. “I am a latent pioneer. I would have loved to go down the Ohio River with John James Audubon.”
He has always been inspired by nature and began drawing at an early age. After serving in World War II, he knew he wanted to become a wildlife painter. One day, someone spotted him doodling and asked if he ever drew cartoons. The man needed someone to create a drawing of a boy for a new toy company.
And so Ruthven created the first Play-Doh boy, and his original drawing has been adapted ever since. His big break, however, came in 1960, when he had the opportunity to design the annual Federal Duck Stamp. “That was when I began to get recognition for my wildlife drawings,” he says.
Ruthven has taken his L.L.Bean Boots on all walks of life, from the Milford Track walk in New Zealand to painting birds in Africa and Alaska. “When I retire a pair, I like to write on the bottom to remember where they’ve taken me,” he says. Over the years, Ruthven has tried different L.L.Bean Boot styles, from insulated pairs to the 10-inch styles, though his favorite is the 6-inch boot.
This summer he completed a mural on the side of a building in downtown Cincinnati to depict the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last-known passenger pigeon in existence. The Cincinnati Nature Center held a tribute in his honor and used Ruthven’s collection of L.L.Bean Boots as table centerpieces. “We had to be careful removing them from my barn because there were nests in some,” he says.
One of the greatest moments of Ruthven’s life was receiving the National Endowment Medal of Arts, which he was given inside the Oval Office. So did he wear L.L.Bean Boots to the occasion? “For that moment, I dressed up a bit more,” he says. “Though blue jeans, a blazer, and Bean Boots do make you look pretty good.”
To learn more about John Ruthven and his art, visit his website here.