Charley Harper left his family's West Virginia farm in 1940 to enroll in the Art Academy of Cincinnati. His studies were interrupted by service in World War II, after which he attended the Art Students League of New York for a year. In 1947 he married fellow artist and Art Academy graduate Edie McKee and began a six-month honeymoon trip through America, during which he struggled to find his artistic voice. The Harper's son, Brett, also an artist, relates that, "at the Grand Canyon [Charley] realized that he could never capture the immensity of the natural wonder via realism. He just had to simplify what he saw." The result is what he called "minimal realism."
In addition to some four hundred illustrations for Ford Times magazine, Harper created clean-lined, sophisticated artwork featured on posters for the National Park Service, the Audubon Society, and many other conservation organizations; and in several books, including Harper Ever After: The Early Work of Charley and Edie Harper (2015) and Beguiled by the Wild, updated in 2016.120 pages