Skip to main content

The National Museum of Wildlife Art Announces the Passing of Museum Founder and Chairman Emeritus William G. Kerr

July 5, 2023

National Museum of Wildlife Art Founder and Chairman Emeritus William G. Kerr passed away on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was 85 years old. “We have lost more than just a Museum Founder but a true visionary in the art world,” says Museum Director Steve Seamons. “Speaking about the Museum in 1994, Kerr said, ‘May it long serve those who come to this place in search of the wild, the natural, the forgotten, and the serene.’ One thing that will never be forgotten is the legacy of Bill and Joffa Kerr. This Museum is a testament to their vision, philanthropy, and enduring impact on the art world.”

Along with his wife, Joffa, Kerr was one of the ten Founding Trustees of the National Museum of Wildlife Art. The Kerrs began collecting wildlife art in 1962 when Joffa gifted him a painting of a panfish to celebrate his graduation from law school. In their third year as wildlife art collectors, they purchased Wanderers Above Timberline by Carl Rungius, widely considered the greatest painter of North American big game. By 1984, the Kerrs had a museum-quality collection of wildlife art and wanted to share it with others.

When the Museum opened in 1987 in a 5,000-square-foot rented space downtown Jackson, the Kerrs’ impressive personal collection made up the bulk of the Museum’s newly minted permanent collection. “When Bill Kerr talked about how art is essential in everyone’s life and that beauty should be shared, everyone got so excited and took ownership of the new Museum. It started out as a community Museum…and it still is. The community felt that they had a part in its inception and growth. There is nothing elitist about it. That was Bill and Joffa Kerr’s goal…because of the Kerrs’ involvement in the art world, we had great shows–right from the beginning,” says Sue Simpson Gallagher, the Museum’s first curator and longtime Board Trustee. In recognition of Kerr’s enduring impact on the Museum, the Board named him Chairman Emeritus in 2008, a title he held for the past fifteen years.

In a speech celebrating the Museum’s 25th anniversary in 2012, Kerr said, “Nature is as fragile as it is fierce. Our institution holds and cares for some of humankind’s most thoughtful and spirited portrayals of the natural world as we have known it. That is a legacy we have the opportunity to embellish and preserve.” Kerr leaves an indelible legacy behind through the thoughtfully curated pieces within the Museum’s collection, the relationships he built with staff and trustees, and the artists he inspired through his patronage.

Kerr is survived by his daughters Kavar and Mara; god-daughter Karla Keller; grandchildren Ayla, Graycen and Whitney Mashburn; and great-granddaughters Tyler Grayce, Caroline Blake and Aubrey Kate Mashburn. In lieu of flowers the family has requested memorial gifts be made to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, PO Box 6825 Jackson, WY 83002.

What People Are Saying