JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The bronze elk stand alert at the snowy entrance to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, while across the highway, 7,000 live elk nuzzle hay in the National Elk Refuge, unafraid of the coyotes skulking their perimeter. I confess, I’ve driven by many times, staring back and forth, but never bothered to stop for the sleigh rides among the elk (looked really cold) or to revisit the museum (no excuse).
This year I stopped, and was taken aback by the museum. I didn’t know the collection ranges from Rembrandt to Warhol. And I didn’t know that by the time you finish walking through the exhibits, you will understand how humans have portrayed wildlife for more than 340 years, sometimes in a fanciful way, sometimes photographically, sometimes more grandly than the actual grandeur of life in the wild — think Bierstadt.
“People are surprised when they come in and see the incredible depth of what we have,” said Dr. Adam Harris, curator of art. “They’re expecting to see animals from this region in fairly representational form, but we really try to collect a broad range of art work…we have the great artists from America and Europe.” [See video interview.]
The museum is year-around and so is the wildlife.
There’s still snow on the ground in Jackson and live elk linger in the refuge along the highway. By early May, they will have drifted into the high country. It’s part of the annual migration they have been making for 6,000 years from their winter feeding grounds in the Red Desert in southern Wyoming to the lush grazing in Teton National Park.
When I close my eyes on this blossoming spring afternoon in D.C., I can picture John Nieto’s “Taos Buffalo” (“bold colors, muscular, modern”) and the glimpse of sage hens in Canadian impressionist Ron Kingswood’s “Thou Shall not Reap the Corners of Thy Field.” I still resonate to Martin E. Oliver’s 23-foot totem, “Tetons,” with a grizzly in the center as “Master of the Forest.”
Next time I’m in Jackson, I will for sure stop at the museum and refresh my spirit.