The Joseph Mason Project
Historic Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum
Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum
4521 Spring Grove Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45232
In the early 1980s, Master Wildlife Artist, John a. Ruthven was researching famous bird artist, John James Audubon's Cincinnati connection.
Audubon lived in Cincinnati briefly in 1820 serving as the first employee of the Western Museum Society, the predecessor to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science.
Ruthven discovered that Audubon had employed Cincinnatian Joseph R. Mason to paint floral backgrounds for Audubon's bird paintings that would become plates in his monumental book, "Birds of America."
While in Cincinnati, Audubon painted five of the birds; Cedar Waxwings, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Least Bittern, Henslow Sparrow, and Cliff Swallows.
Between the ages of 13 and 15, Mason traveled with Audubon down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers painting the floral backgrounds on over 50 of Audubon`s "Birds."
In July of 1822, Mason left Audubon and returned to Cincinnati to assist his newly widowed mother. Mason built a career as a successful portrait painter working out of a studio located at Fourth and Main Streets. He died in the Queen City in 1842.
Ruthven was very excited about this discovery, and set out to find Mason's final resting place. This proved to be very difficult. Decades passed as Ruthven pursued one lead after another. After twenty years, it appeared to Ruthven that Joseph Mason's mortal remains had vanished completely. Then his luck changed!
A chance encounter with Henry Harrison in 2000 led to a break through discovery. Harrison was an employee of Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, and was well acquainted with the Grove`s historic burial data base. Quickly he discovered Joseph R. Mason`s burial record indicating he was in section 39, lot 29 along with his mother, father and three other unrelated people.
Spring Grove was created in 1845 to address the burial needs of rapidly growing Cincinnati. The Masons were among many who had been originally buried in cemeteries downtown. In 1860, the Masons were moved from the Episcopal Cemetery (current site of Procter & Gamble headquarters) to Spring Grove. Ruthven's search was ended, but a new project was about to begin.
Upon visiting the site, Ruthven was dismayed that there was no burial marker, and no indication of the significant contribution a teenage Cincinnati artist had made to one of the great publishing efforts in recent history.
Bill Hopple, a trustee of Spring Grove Cemetery and Executive Director of Cincinnati Nature Center, and wildlife artist and Director Emeritus of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science, DeVere Burt, were recruited by Ruthven to assist with the creation of a suitable marker for the Mason grave site.
Financial assistance was provided by The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation. Ruthven designed the bronze relief tablet incorporating one of Mason`s backgrounds and a brief historical account of Mason's life written by Burt. The 1 1/2 ton memorial was installed in December 2012 and will be formally dedicated April 20, 2013.
This unique story of research, discovery, and recognition, span many miles and decades, and ends in Cincinnati. A final irony is that after all John Ruthven`s searching for Joseph Mason's final resting place, he found it located mere foot steps away from the Ruthven family plot in the quiet glades of Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum.
January 8, 2013
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