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Art Anniversary

May 10, 2017

National Museum of Wildlife Art pops cork on its 30th year.
By Isa Jones

The National Museum of Wildlife Art wasn’t always on that hill overlooking the National Elk Refuge.

In 1987 the museum’s home was a 5,000-square-foot storefront near Town Square, the kind of space many galleries in Jackson occupy.

It had a different name, too: Wildlife of the American West Museum.

This year, as the museum turns 30, it has far exceeded the expectations set back then. The institution boasts over 5,000 pieces, a 51,000-square-foot complex made of sandstone and rotating exhibits that continue to wow.

“It’s always fun to mark an anniversary year,” curator Adam Harris said. “It’s a good excuse to do something big.”

The museum has had a fruitful 2017. At February’s Blacktail Gala it added several works to its collection: Marc Petrovic’s “Avian Pair,” a glass sculpture; Juan Fontanive’s “Ornithology” and “Colorthing”; Shelley Reed’s “Stag (after Landseer)”; Zoe Keller’s graphite-and-paper works “Fire” and “Prey”; and William Sweetlove’s colorful “Cloned Penguin with Petbottle.”

The museum was reaccredited by the American Alliance of Museums, a classification only 3 percent of American museums can claim.

For the museum’s 30th — which is officially Tuesday and will feature a free public event in the evening — its staff has been hard at work rearranging the permanent collection.

“We hadn’t reinstalled the permanent collection in over a year,” Harris said. “We started last November and went month by month, gallery by gallery. People will see new interpretations, new design, new graphics and a new path to go through the museum.”

But, Harris said, old favorites will still be out, too.

“It’s a fine balance between keeping old favorites out and bringing out new things for people to see,” he said. “We tried to bring out some new and fresh things people haven’t seen in a while, or new acquisitions that haven’t been on view or were only on view for a short while. Hopefully new favorites make their way out into the gallery.”

The celebration starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a free Mix’d Media 30th anniversary party.

“We have a whole bunch of things going on,” said Taylor Woods, marketing manager. “We’re opening two new exhibits of our permanent collection.”

The first is “Andy Warhol: Endangered Species.” The works are part of the permanent collection, but are rarely brought out.

“We originally had an exhibit of Andy Warhol and these prints more than a decade ago,” Harris said. “The collections committee and board and public liked that exhibit so much they wanted us to see if we could find a set of these prints for ourselves, and luckily we were able to find a set of them so we can show them whenever we wanted.”

Warhol’s endangered species set was commissioned decades ago and mixes his pop-art style with wildlife portraits.

“Exploring Wildlife Art” is not new art, but a redesign of the permanent collection for newcomers and regulars.

“It’s the first time in a long time, in my history here, that our curatorial department has reinstalled our permanent collection galleries,” Woods said.

Of course, the evening is a party, so expect food, cake, a champagne toast, music by the Chanman Band and a game that will allow guests to better engage with the exhibits.

“We’ll celebrate our first 30 years of success and look to the future,” Woods said.

Tuesday’s event is one of many planned to mark the anniversary throughout the summer. Other include sneak-peeks of exhibits, exhibit openings, Plein Art Fest, the Black Bear Ball on Aug. 19 and more.

So what is in store for the next 30 years?

“I can see us in the next 30 years doing more outreach, sending more of our amazing collection out to other museums around the world,” Harris said. “And I can see us also continuing to be a must-see destination in Jackson.”

NMWA 30th Anniversary
This piece by Thomas Moran, “Great Hot Springs Yellowstone Park,” an oil on canvas from 1893, highlights the Yellowstone region. It is part of the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s permanent collection that is on display for its 30th anniversary.

NMWA 30th Anniversary

This piece, “Caravan” by Peter Gerakaris, is one of the pieces that will be on display as part of the “Exploring Wildlife” exhibit.

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