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While They’re Sleeping: A Story of Bears

October 23, 2021 - May 15, 2022

While They’re Sleeping: A Story of Bears offers compelling visions of North American grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis), black (Ursus americanus), and polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s permanent collection. Here, bears stride across windy mountains and freezing tundra, battle with bison, journey with wolves, and appear as dreamy apparitions.

The moods and messages of the artwork on display shifts from 1846 to 2019 demonstrating how human values and beliefs have defined and redefined bears over the past two centuries — whether as hunting trophies, scientific specimens, devoted mothers, or supernatural beings.

Early works by artist-sportsmen document impressive bears in their prime to celebrate North America’s abundance of wildlife and advance early scientific knowledge. Other European-American artists of the past used bears to satirize human behavior or to embody vast wilderness. Today, a diverse group of artists help us to visualize bears in new ways. Their works express a fluidity between the human and animal worlds, with bears acting as messengers of artists’ personal emotions and experiences, pressing environmental issues, and cultural narratives.

While They’re Sleeping is also a story of bears as told by prominent bear biologists who have spent their lives with these animals and offer fascinating perspectives about the artwork on display. As you view this exhibition, ponder the question considered by artists and scientists alike: Why do bears hold the human imagination so tightly?

A special section of While They’re Sleeping pays tribute to Grand Teton National Park’s beloved resident Grizzly 399 through stunning photographs by renowned wildlife photographer and conservationist Thomas G. Mangelsen. His images reveal intimate scenes from her life in the wild, including her current litter of four captivating cubs.

Of note: This exhibit takes place during the winter months while the grizzly and black bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are in hibernation – While they’re Sleeping.

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