Some years ago, as Jackson’s Chamber of Commerce was adopting the phrase “Power of Place,” I had the honor of writing about that concept as it relates to the arts in Jackson Hole for Explorer Magazine. With all that’s going on in our world today, power of place is foremost in our minds. May we emerge from this time with more compassion, understanding, perspective and courage to do the right thing—not only for each other, but for our Parks and wildlife.
Some organizations and structures have shifted since this piece was published, but the emotions remain the same.
“The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights, shades – these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts.” – Olaus Murie
Noted conservationist Mardy Murie kept these words, composed by her husband Olaus, at her home in Moose, Wyoming. Mardy and Olaus Murie spent their lives protecting wilderness. In doing so, they nurtured love for America’s natural world and, by extension, the art inspired by nature.
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades.
Jackson Hole is a high, verdant valley lying sixty miles south of Yellowstone Park, and it is the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in the contiguous United States. It is a spectacular geography, dotted with alpine lakes, wild rivers and an abundance of wildlife. Our centerpiece is the Teton Range, one of the most recognizable symbols of the American West and reproduced in paintings and photographs around the world.
Magnificent regions attract artists. Our valley’s sites, locations and creatures are tirelessly observed and recreated by the region’s artists. The concept of Power of Place has always inspired the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s arts; and the arts are about telling our present to the future. The earliest artists to chronicle Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks presented America with its first media images of unknown, exotic territory. The country was literally presented in new light; a light influenced by the east coast’s Hudson River School, imbued with an almost holy aura.
In the 1870’s, Thomas Moran’s works were so powerful they inspired Congress to preserve the Yellowstone Territory as a National Park. “These beautiful tints are beyond the range of human art,” wrote Moran of Yellowstone.
As visitors explore Jackson’s galleries and museums, a wonderful history of our parks unfolds in front of them. That history includes contemporary art, a growing regional presence.
Historically, the arts provide a healthy economic underbelly for regional communities. The role of the arts is to chronicle, enrich, conserve and inspire. Beginning with Thomas Moran, and continuing to current regional artists like Dan Burgette, Ed Riddell, Russell Chatham, Theodore Waddell, Tom Mangelsen and Henry Holdsworth, Bronwyn Minton, Travis Walker, Jennifer Hoffman…ours is an endless list of contemporary and traditional artists creating tomorrow’s artistic landmarks. Western landscape painters like Greg McHuron, Clyde Aspevig, Tucker Smith, the Colemans, Kathy Wipfler, Kathy Turner; and masters such as Remington, Bierstadt and Borein; all these artists’ works are here, celebrating wilderness and the West, acting to protect it via the visual arts. Jackson Hole’s scenery continues to inspire new generations of artists to offer up their own visions, using all manner of medium.
So how and where can visitors to Jackson Hole experience its remarkable representational and contemporary arts? The answer is, almost everywhere you look.
Founded 21 years ago, NMWA looks very much like an ancient stone castle overlooking the National Elk Refuge. Its mission includes giving back to the community; NMWA is a museum reflecting the valley’s character, habitat and singular location. Its design is indeed modeled on Scotland’s seaside Slains Castle, and the Museum’s collection has grown to over 4,000 items gathered from countries around the world. A 24-foot high red cedar totem, “Tetons,” by Quinault/Soleta-Pueblo artist Marvin Oliver, greets you in the lobby. Beyond NMWA’s floor-to-ceiling windows are sweeping views of the Elk Refuge and “Sleeping Indian” peak.
NMWA’s collection includes the Bison Gallery, filled with paintings and sculpture of one of America’s most iconic images. World renowned conservation artist Robert Bateman’s “Bison” dominates the gallery—the sheer size of it takes the viewer’s breath away. Look for works by an artist rarely connected to wildlife: Andy Warhol. A transcendent colorist, Warhol created a suite of wildlife portraits, “Endangered Species.” NMWA regularly exhibits works by other 20th century masters, such as Picasso, Calder and O’Keeffe.
“A feather can tip the balance.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams
Jackson’s Center for the Arts anchors our contemporary arts community. The Art Association is home to ArtSpace, a dynamic two-floor gallery and venue for Jackson artists and invited guests from around the country. Exhibitions explore such diverse themes as global warming, dance, Native American culture, film, contemporary photography, world history, urbanism and more. The Center houses organizations such as the Center of Wonder, Teton Art Lab and pARTNERS that provide venues combining new art trends and nature for students and emerging local artists. The Art Association offers art classes to people of all ages and ability and produces three annual fairs, collectively known as Art Fair Jackson Hole.
Western art is a specific genre. Approximately 30 galleries showcase the best in Western traditional and contemporary art. Landscape painting, portraits, Native American themes, hunting and fishing, cowboy culture, bronze sculpture, Americana, and furnishings all play a role in today’s Western Art market. Contemporary Western artists reinterpret traditional Western themes using an almost infinite variety of media. While some artists study and execute representational works, others explore and echo such movements as Pop Art, Fauvism and trompe l’oeil. The natural world is thoroughly explored, down to the tiniest microcosm. Works range from the monumental to the infinitesimal and can be idealized and animated, or fastidiously detailed.
And, of course, Jackson Hole’s annual celebration of the arts, September’s Fall Arts Festival, brings thousands of devotees of the arts and the valley’s natural wonders to Jackson. Art auctions, special gallery openings, competitions and galas mark the event. Local, regional, national and international artists participate, positioning Jackson ever higher on the cultural scale.
The arts and the environment are historically linked and will remain so. The arts sing of our parks, our wildlife, our wilderness. It is virtually impossible for one to exist, or thrive, without the other.
Grand Teton National Park’s newest visitor experience, the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve, sits at the base of the Tetons, just a few miles from the Murie Ranch. Visitors are offered an exhibit full of photographic images, powerful in their simplicity, and accompanied by a meditative sensory experience. Nature writer Terry Tempest Williams – a life long friend of the Muries – composed poetry specifically for the site.
“The Scales of Nature will always seek equilibrium,” she wrote. “A feather can tip the balance.”
Arts spark our imagination and help us towards an emotional experience critical to engaging preservation of the parks. When you explore Jackson Hole’s arts, you are exploring the magnificent region that inspired them.
Yes! The National Museum of Wildlife Art (NMWA) has reopened!
Jane Lavino, the museum’s Sugden Chief Curator of Education, writes that that the soft opening which began June 2nd includes abbreviated public hours of 10 am – 2 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays to start.
“A lot of thought has gone into how to keep people safe, and our protocols require face masks, 6-foot distancing, limiting the number of people in the museum at any given time, hand sanitizer stations and more,” says Lavino.
The long-time educator highlights that with with 51,000 square feet of space and 14 galleries, NMWA is a great place for people to be comfortably spread out to as they view the art, and the Sculpture Trail is completely outdoors.
There will be adjustments to suit the moment.
NMWA’s July Plein Air Fest has moved to an online show and sale and run from July 12th – 18th with nearly nearly 40 artists painting and sculpting around the area. On July 19th the completed artworks will be exhibited virtually on NMWA’s website, with set purchase prices; the online sale ends July 25th.
“We are excited about the possibility of reaching locals as well as those at a distance with this new format,” adds Lavino. “Additionally we will continue to offer our educational webinars online through the summer. These include the new Coffee with a Curator discussions, as well as our webinars in partnership with the Yellowstone to Yukon Coalition. Through the month of June virtual visitors can enjoy premier screenings of a brand new educational video series called Bisoncast. A new episode will be released once a week for three weeks. Our Education Department has been working on this project for three years and we are ecstatic with the results. Bisoncast brings compelling stories about our wildlife art and artists to life!”
As far as exhibitions, State of the Art: Student Art Show has been extended and will remain up through August 16th in the Wapiti Gallery. A collaboration between NMWA and Teton County art educators, it features more than 300 works of art by K-12 students from over 14 local schools.
Finally, the summer’s headline exhibit, Tucker Smith: A Celebration of Nature, runs June 15 – August 23, 2020. A celebratory and full retrospective of Tucker’s work, the show features more than 75 original oil paintings by the renowned Wyoming plein air artist. Subjects include western wildlife, camp and cowboy scenes, as well as stunning landscapes. A full color catalogue accompanies the exhibit.
To learn more about Bisoncast, visit https://www.wildlifeart.org/bisoncast/
Palate Restaurant at the Museum reopens June 9th with more outdoor seating, well-spaced indoor seating, and curbside pickup options. www.wildlifeart.org