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National Museum of Wildlife Art celebrates 30 years

May 14, 2017


Elysia Conner  

A museum in Wyoming has drawn visitors, artists and art enthusiasts from around the world to see its collection of wildlife art for three decades.

The National Museum of Wildlife Art celebrates its 30th anniversary Tuesday with a reception and showcase of its permanent collection. Art by Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe and Robert Bateman’s “Chief” are some of the famous works housed at the museum. Special shows also will continue through the year.

The museum’s new show, “Andy Warhol: Endangered Species,” opens during the celebration, along with “Exploring Wildlife Art – National Museum of Wildlife Art Gallery Reinstallation.” The event includes cake, music, drinks, giveaways, new membership discounts, music by The Chanman Band and food from the new museum restaurant, Palate. The party also launches the 30th anniversary issue of Call of the Wild magazine with signings by the writers and editor.

Current shows

Warhol was best known for leading the pop art movement, but he also had a lifelong interest in animals and nature conservation.

The animals in his “Endangered Wildlife” portfolio have the heightened color and graphic quality associated with his images of famous people including Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and others, curator of art and research Adam Harris said.

“He’s kind of giving these endangered species, these animals that need our attention, the Warhol treatment,” Harris said. “I like to say he’s celebritized the animals.”

The Warhol art is part of the museum’s permanent collection, but the works aren’t displayed often because constant light would damage them, Harris said.

The permanent collection gallery reinstallation also to be unveiled during the celebration features a new look at old favorites and new acquisitions along with revamped labels with maps, timelines and new stories about humanity’s relationship with nature, museum curators said. Other well-known artists in the collection include Charles Russell, Edward Hicks and Albert Bierstadt.

The reinstallation spotlights the history of the region, including borrowed works by Thomas Moran, whose paintings helped persuade Congress to create the first national park: Yellowstone.

“With how we’ve reinstalled the galleries, we’re bringing to life just how much great art has been created in Wyoming, which I don’t think people necessarily realize,” Harris said.

Highlights also include Native American birdstones circa 2500 B.C. as well as paintings by Carl Rungius, the premier painter of North American wildlife, Harris said.

“Anybody doing wildlife today always credits him as being a huge influence, so we get artists and admirers coming to the museum to see his work all the time,” Harris said.

This season will also bring shows by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore and hummingbird paintings by John Gould dating back to 1861.

Growing wild

The National Museum of Wildlife Art began with a private collection of Joffa and Bill Kerr on May 16, 1987. It’s grown to house more than 5,000 works from early American tribes to contemporary masters, according to the museum.

The museum’s home since 1994 has been a rock-facade structure built into a hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge with an outdoor sculpture garden.

In 2008, the museum was designated the “National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States” by Congress. It is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Visitors now can find art depicting animals that live just outside the museum’s doors to around the world, said Jane Lavino, the museum’s curator of education and exhibits. They’ll see ancient to contemporary conceptual art and works in all kinds of media, including digital art, a glass squid and even a mechanical flipbook depicting hummingbirds, she said.

The museum also has expanded the ways visitors can experience and interact with the art, including audio tours on phone apps, videos that coincide with exhibits, soundscapes and a response kiosk where visitors can write their thoughts. Educational programs also have grown, with opportunities for children and adults to learn from experts and create art, Lavino said.

“One thing I have seen over the years — with everybody working so hard with displaying the work in the best way possible, and to help visitors relate to it and understand it in the best way possible — we’ve done a lot, but there’s always so much more that can be done,” Lavino said. “That’s what keeps it exciting for me. Museums are in a fabulous position to do so much with making people aware of what’s going on in the world around them and engage in conversations.”

The full article was published May 14, 2017 and can be found here.

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