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Anthropomorphic Paintings May 31, 2012  |  By Adam Harris

We went out on Monday to Grand Teton National Park to search for animals. We got lucky, seeing buffalo, pronghorn, moose, and bear. The connections between what we see outside in the park and what we see inside at the Museum always strike me. The young grizzly we saw reminded me of William Holbrook Beard’s painting, “So you wanna get married, eh?” This is one of the most anthropomorphic paintings we have in the Museum.

I thought of it when we saw the grizzly because, being small and cute, it was easy to give it human characteristics. The story line changed, however, when I began to try to explain to my children why the park ranger kept telling the crowd of people to move back as the grizzly approached. I think part of our fascination with animals, both the wild and the painted variety, comes from this complex dynamic between wanting to relate to them by giving them human characteristics while never being able to know what is going on inside their heads.

Image Credit: William Holbrook Beard (United States, 1824 – 1900), So You Wanna Get Married, Eh?, 1886. Oil on Canvas. 24 x 18 inches. JKM Collection®, National Museum of Wildlife Art.

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