The Man Who Walked 75,000 Miles in L.L.Bean Boots

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.”

John Ruthven's barn and L.L.Bean Boot collection

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.

Early Play-Doh container

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.

1960 Federal Duck Stamp Competition winner

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.

John Ruthven with his L.L.Bean Boot collection

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.”

John Ruthven and President Gerald Ford

To learn more about John Ruthven and his art, visit his website here.

Comments (19)

  1. Amy | December 11, 2013 | 6:59 pm

    Go John Go!

  2. Larry Pauly | December 12, 2013 | 2:02 pm

    A real American gem-John Ruthven is a friend to all and special friend to Cincinnati. The boots are special to John and all who visit his home in Georgetown, Ohio. You have honored a great guy!

  3. Ken Trimpe | December 18, 2013 | 3:23 pm

    Keep on hiking John — you’re an inspiration to us all!

  4. Philip Watson | December 22, 2013 | 11:54 am

    Can Bean boots be resoled?.
    They are great but the soles have holes.

    Philip Watson

    • Laurie | L.L.Bean | December 26, 2013 | 10:17 am

      Hi Philip – Yes, L.L.Bean Bean Boots can be resoled up to three times. Please give us a call and we can discuss options. 800-441-5713. Thanks ^LB

  5. Claudia | December 29, 2013 | 6:22 pm

    I have a question about the boots, im usually a size 6 but sometimes fit into 7, im not sure if they will be too small or what, if you could help me out that would be great thanks.

    Thank You
    Claudia Garland

    • Laurie | L.L.Bean | January 2, 2014 | 11:39 am

      Hi Claudia – Our Bean Boots run large so you’ll need to size down one size. We don’t make Bean Boots in women’s size 5. Your option would be to order a size 6 and add a fleece insole and wear thick socks. Another option would be to order a kid’s size Bean Boot. Please give us a call and we’d be happy to discuss options with you. 800-441-5713. Thanks ^LB

  6. Virgie | January 2, 2014 | 12:35 pm

    I have the low boots which I bought to wear when gardening. They are 5 years old and still
    going strong. They are the most comfortable pair of boots I have ever had!! I can see why
    John chose Bean boots for all his walking. Keep walking in good health, John!!
    from Virgie in Merrimack,N.H.

  7. Donna | January 3, 2014 | 9:50 am

    I would like a good winter boot that is tall (up close to the knees), flat, good tread, warm, and would like it to be a little stylish.

    • Laurie | L.L.Bean | January 6, 2014 | 4:32 pm

      Hi Donna – Please give us a call and we can help you choose a winter boot. 800-441-5713. Thanks ^LB

  8. Amanda D. | January 13, 2014 | 4:20 pm

    As a Canadian gal myself going through brutal winters in Ottawa, my Bean Boots have held up against ice, snow and even salt although I do clean the salt off of them. They have been amazing and I recommend them to everyone and anyone looking for a long term boot. I’ve put insulating socks in them sometimes or other times I just wear a thin pair and no matter what my feet are comfortable and dry. I love them, I can see why John would wear them so much – I plan on always having a pair to my name.

  9. Jen | January 16, 2014 | 7:03 pm

    I just got my first pair of bean boots and although I ordered them a bit bigger than I should of I LOVE LOVE LOVE them. First pair of boots I have ever worn consistently and we are getting lots of snow this year to need them! Thanks for making such great boots. Awesome story on John!!

    • Laurie | L.L.Bean | January 21, 2014 | 1:24 pm

      Thanks Jen – Glad to hear you love your Bean Boots! ^LB

  10. Al Denard | January 16, 2014 | 10:07 pm

    Exactly which pair six inch boots did John find most comfortable?

  11. LM E. | January 17, 2014 | 9:53 am

    What a wonderful, inspiring human being, artist, pioneer, legend, and hero! As I was reading the story I kept thinking in the back of my mind of the many people I will send this story to, because we have been let down so often by those in the limelight who should have never had it in the first place. It is so nice to learn about a person who walks, and sees, and draws, turning the experience into something else that we can all enjoy. It is very precious that there were nests in the boots hanging in the barn, and it is also very important that footwear can become an emotional attachment; how poignant it is that the destinations and locations of where the boots went are recorded on the soles. Thank you for introducing all of us to Mr. Ruthven!

  12. sam ironrod | January 19, 2014 | 10:04 am

    all this and they don’t even say what kind /order number of the boots. did I miss something??????

  13. Jane McDonald | January 19, 2014 | 8:11 pm

    John is a gracious man and he has used his art to encourage others in their worthwhile causes, while helping us see nature through his eyes. It is a honor to know him and have many pieces of his art.

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