Meet the artists you don’t know

It is older than the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

The Reds and the Music Hall too.

We’re talking about the Art Academy of Cincinnati, a crown jewel of the queen city that celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

But it’s not just age that makes this school remarkable. In fact, it’s not really the school itself, which has loomed large in both Eden Park and now, Over-the-Rhine.

It’s the constellation of creatives who have all been students there.

Some are bold names in art history books, people like Elizabeth Nourse, Tom Wesselmann, Julian Stanczak, Charley Harper, Thom Shaw.

A page about artist Thom Shaw from the book "ACA 150," on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

And this group of pioneers came from a school with an average class size of 200 each year. This means that only about 30,000 people have attended the Cincinnati Academy of Art since its founding in 1869. That’s about the same number as the current class of undergraduate students at the University of Cincinnati .

This fact was not lost on author Jeff Suess, who is also a writer and librarian at The Enquirer. He reflected on how this small school had a huge impact while writing his latest book, “AAC 150”.

Jeff Suess, the librarian of The Enquirer, poses for a portrait in Smale Riverfront Park near the statue honoring the Black Brigade on Tuesday, November 22, 2016. The story of these soldiers is part of his latest book, "Hidden story."

In 144 pages, Suess tells the story of the continued influence of this historic school in a combination of energetic illustrations and brilliant text, designed by art academy alumnus Steve Weinstein of Envoi Design.

Of course, you will learn more about Nourse, Wesselmann, Stanczak, Harper and Shaw. But Suess also shares the stories of other alumni whose work is recognizable — and noteworthy — even if their names aren’t.

Here’s a look at some of our new favorites from the Cincinnati Academy of Art archives:

This guy practically invented comics

Would we have Superman without RF Outcault? This is a question we can ask ourselves.

Outcault, who was a student here from 1878 to 1881, is credited with creating the standards for comics. Think word bubbles, sequential panels, recurring characters, says Suess.

An original illustration by Jeff Suess and Mal Wesley on cartoonist RF Outcault, taken from the book "AAC 150," on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Outcault’s comic “The Yellow Kid and His New Phonograph” also inspired Suess. He teamed up with current art academy student Marlowe Wesley to create an original comic strip telling the story of Outcault, which you can check out in the book “AAC 150.”

YouI saw his work all over Cincinnati

Clement J. Barnhorn was both a student and teacher at the academy, first in 1880 and back in 1900. He worked in stone, metal, and ceramic earthenware (pottery).

During his lifetime he enjoyed an award-winning national reputation, but he almost always lived in Cincinnati. And his mark is still visible in his city.

He helped with the statue of William Henry Harrison in Piatt Park. Soldiers outside Memorial Hall. Barnhorn also created the “Madonna and Child” and “The Assumption of Mary into Heaven” at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington and the “Crucifixion Group” at St. Monica-St. George Church in University Heights.

Fun fact: Barnhorn shared a studio with painter Frank Duveneck at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the original home of the art school. They collaborated on plays, and when Duveneck died in 1925, his good friend Barnhorn made his memorial grave at Mother of God Cemetery in Fort Wright.

A mockup of the book cover "AAC 150," on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Art Academy of Cincinnati.  Cincinnati Academy of Art/Supplied

He may have been on the cover of your favorite record

Jim Flora became the art director of Columbia Records shortly after studying illustration here in the late 1930s.

He was a music lover who loved to draw, so it was a perfect match for the young artist, Suess said.

Flora’s colorful and playful pieces adorn the covers of legends such as Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

You may have noticed his work in major museums

Petah Coyne had quite the career after attending the art academy in 1973-77.

His large-scale sculptures made of unconventional materials have been exhibited in places like the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the High Museum of Art.

Mildred D. Field