You may decide to travel to Jackson Hole for the skiing or to visit the two nearby national parks —Grand Teton and Yellowstone—but you probably never guessed that your trip to the northwest corner of Wyoming would include the chance to check out a national art museum. Surprise! Jackson Hole is the proud location of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, a world-renowned collection of wildlife and Western artistic creations that is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2023.
World-Class Wildlife Art
Consistently ranked as one of Jackson Hole’s top attractions, the National Museum of Wildlife Art is built into a hillside overlooking the National Elk Refuge. This world-class museum holds more than 5,000 artworks representing wild animals from around the globe. Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Robert Kuhn, John James Audubon and Carl Rungius are just some of the prominent artists whose works are featured inside the museum’s galleries and the unsurpassed permanent collection chronicles much of the history of wildlife in art, from 2500 B.C. to the present.
Boasting a gift shop, interactive children’s gallery, café and outdoor sculpture trail, the museum is only two-and-a-half miles north of Jackson Town Square and two miles from the gateway of Grand Teton National Park.
According to its website, the mission of the museum is to “collect, display, interpret and preserve the highest quality North American wildlife art, supplemented by wildlife art found throughout the world."
"The museum enriches and inspires appreciation and knowledge of humanity’s relationship with nature.”
Six of the 14 galleries introduce visitors to a wide range of topics related to the permanent collection. The museum also features temporary exhibitions focused on wildlife, nature and the American West.
For 30 years, the museum has become a mecca for wildlife painters, sculptors, photographers and other artists.
This holds especially true during September’s Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival when the museum hosts its Western Visions Show and Sale, as well as its annual Plein Air Fest held every June. A myriad of creative souls wants be an active part of the building’s artistic contents; to see their works in one of the museum’s galleries.
What: The National Museum of Wildlife Art
Location: 2820 Rungius, off Hwy 191 N, across from the National Elk Refuge
Hours: Summer (May 1 - November 30) hours: Open daily, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; closed Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving. Palate Restaurant open daily, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Restaurant closed all of November. Winter (December 1 – April 30) hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.–4 p.m.; closed December 25 and 26. Palate Restaurant open Tuesday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Restaurant closed all of April. The gift shop is open at the same hours as the museum.
Admission: $15 for adults; $13 seniors (age 65 and above); $8 first child ages 5 to 18 with each additional child, $4; free under age 5. Free with museum membership.
Blending Art with Landscape
The distinctive architecture of the museum is a piece of art unto itself. With a design inspired by the ruins of Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, it blends seamlessly into the steep, sage covered hillside it sits atop, appearing to emerge from the earth like a natural outcropping of rock. The architectural firm responsible for the ingenious design is C.W. Fentress, J.H. Bradburn and Associates of Denver, Colorado, which also designed the Denver International Airport. The 51,000-square-foot building is constructed of Idaho Quartzite, making it wholly original, contextually relevant and timeless.
Because the museum’s architecture renders it as part of the landscape of the bluff, the famed Sculpture Trail’s 19 “inhabitants”—which include bronze moose, bison, elk and big horn sheep among others—are often mistaken as the real deal by the unsuspecting motorist passing by!
Award-winning landscape architect Walter Hood designed the museum's popular Sculpture Trail. The three-quarter-mile footpath places sculpture against the striking Gros Ventre Mountain Range backdrop and the elk refuge and includes a naturally sheltered amphitheater near the museum entrance for programs and presentations. Over time the trail will feature more than 30 permanent and temporary works of art beautifully integrated into the museum’s breathtaking surroundings.
Celebrating Humanity’s Relationship With Nature
The museum is a significant resource for those interested in the connection between art and wildlife. In fact, its location across from the elk refuge provides a rare opportunity for visitors to view wildlife in its natural habitat, as does the artwork that pays tribute to it.
By virtue of its home in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the institution is poised to make a strong impact on the way people feel about contemporary conservation efforts. While much of the collection focuses on North American wildlife and mega fauna, there are a lot of great stories that each piece from all corners of the world can tell.
"One of the museum's goals is to show representations of this place, this wilderness that we could lose if we don’t take care of what’s here,” says Carrie Schwartz, assistant curator of education and exhibits. “A visitor coming here to experience that can take this with them.”
“We’re losing plant species and wildlife and creatures all over the world and this museum has the power to help people really reflect upon that."
This museum is a treasure because it has that ability to shift perceptions, says Jennifer Marshall Weydeveld, director of marketing. “We are proud to present spectacular wildlife paintings and sculptures that inform visitors about the region and beyond.”
Any day of the week one can not only view art, but also engage in other special activities hosted by the museum. They can hear music at certain day and evening events, watch a film about conservation and other wildlife topics, participate in both adult and children’s educational programming and see how man’s hand has impacted the environment.
As the museum moves into its third decade, the scope of its collection is broadening to include wildlife art from around the world. Recent acquisitions include works from Africa and New Zealand.
See all the wondrous art the museum has inside between 9 a.m.and 5 p.m., seven days a week. Enjoy a unique and artful lunch experience inside or on the deck, both overlooking the National Elk refuge at Palate restaurant Tuesday through Sunday 11-2pm. Then browse the gift shop! Admission is $14 for adults; $12 seniors (age 60 and above); $6 children ages 5 to 18; free under age 5.
BONUS: The museum recently rolled out a new interactive National Museum of Wildlife app as well as a Sculpture Trail tour app—wildlifeart.org/app.