National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming

June 22

This gem of a museum sits high above the National Elk Refuge in Jackson and provides breadth taking views the minute you step out of your car. But the views only get better when you walk  into the expansive lobby and visit the galleries. Leo and I were here two years ago and we were eager to revisit old favorites and stroll the grounds to take in the views. The building’s exterior is a rock facade that appears to rise from the mountain itself with animal sculptures lining the steep drive and the hilltop. Even at a distance you can see bears, moose and even birds taking flight forever captured by the “sculptor’s loving hand ” .

The collection, with over 550 artists and 5,000 catalogued items, is arranged to reflect the changing attitudes and relationships of man with animals. As you walk into the main gallery you are greeted by a large painting by Canadian born artist Robert Bateman. “Chief” (1997), is an American Bison that seems to walk out of a morning mist to look at you straight in the eye. Maybe he’s trying to connect with us and make us see how interdependent we are. He’s definetly captivating, I spent a lot of time admiring this painting.

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Among many great wildlife artist of the 20th century, Robert F. Kuhn was remarkable for the simple backgrounds and use of horizontal bands of light that show the influence of modern artists like Mark Rothko. A couple of my favorites by Kuhn were “Five Dall Sheep” (1982) and “Pas de Deux” (1975).

Through the magic of Google, I discovered that the Dall sheep is native to the rugged high altitude Northwestern territories and that the male (with thick curly horns) live in strictly male groups and only associate with females during mating season. In the painting we see one such group looking lovely and aloof, talk about male bonding. The painting is called “Five Dall Sheep” but there are only four depicted, the fifth is suggested by the tracks and shadows that go off the picture frame towards the right.

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If Pas de Deux is a dance for two, in this painting the dance takes on a more dangerous turn. The leap of this jack rabbit could rival Baryshnikov but the rabbit is dancing for higher stakes. The fox watches in admiration and draws your eye to the heights the rabbit is able to achieve.

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During our visit we were able to see a special exhibition by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. This fabulous photographer has traveled the world for over three decades capturing the most amazing images of animals and insects. He has covered all different kinds of conservation issues and changing environments.  Some of the animals were captured with a very human like expression making us connect with them even more and making you smile in the process. I know I had a smile on my face, and kept thinking of the patience it would take to capture these pictures and of how many pictures were taken thousands, millions!

Usually museums fall into the rainy day activity category but this one should be visited on a glorious day when you can enjoy the views from the outside and contemplate the wonders of nature from the inside.

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