A sculpture of five elk called Wapiti Trail greets visitors as they turn off of Highway 89, where rising seamlessly out of the side of East Gros Ventre Butte, just north of the National Elk Refuge, is a rustic-looking museum of artwork depicting wild animals in their natural habitat.
Inspired by the ruins of Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and built from Idaho quartzite and reclaimed timber, the current location of the National Museum of Wildlife Art is a temple to nature and wildlife out among nature and wildlife.
Over the past 30 years, the museum has amassed more than 5,000 individual pieces of wildlife art, ranging from 2,500-year-old Native American bird stones to paintings and sculptures by contemporary masters. The centerpiece of the collection consists of works by Carl Rungius and Bob Kuhn, and it has art from America, Europe, Africa, and New Zealand. Some of the more well known artists represented are Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and Auguste Rodin. One historically notable piece is a painting of a polar bear done by Colin Campbell Cooper in April of 1912, when he was part of the effort to rescue passengers of the Titanic.
The artwork at the museum represents wild animals as they exist in nature—how they grow and adapt during various stages of their lives and seasons of the year. The goal is help visitors better understand these animals and their importance. This goal was clearly met with success—the museum was officially recognized as the National Museum of Wildlife Art of the United States by an Act of Congress in 2008.
The 51,000-square-foot museum, located just north of Jackson, Wyoming, is the second home of Joffa and William Kerr’s wildlife art collection. It first appeared in a storefront gallery called the Wildlife of the American West Art Museum in Jackson’s Town Square in 1987, but the collection quickly outgrew that facility.
Alongside the 14 galleries of wildlife art at the museum you’ll find a restaurant, research library, and the Sculpture Trail, an outdoor trail designed by Walter J. Hood and free to the public. It will ultimately have 30 permanent and temporary pieces of art on display, and it includes an amphitheater for outdoor performances, as well as staircases and bridges to allow visitors different views of the surrounding area. Yoga classes on the trail are offered in the summer, and it connects to the Jackson-to-Grand Teton National Park bike pathway.
The museum offers educational programs for nature art lovers of all ages, and awards the Rungius Medal to individuals based on contributions they have made to the preservation and artistic interpretation of wildlife and nature. Jane Goodall is one previous recipient.