Editor's note: The following article was reprinted in Resource Library on April 4, 2009 with permission of the author, the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Booth Western Art Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Booth Western Art Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Wild at Heart: Selections from the National Museum of Wildlife Art Travels to the Booth Western Art Museum This Spring

By Adam Duncan Harris


When the earliest artists created the first works of art, on cave walls and cliff faces, they depicted wildlife. The relationship between humans and animals has been drawn and re-drawn by artists from all over the globe ever since. In North America, the subject has been of particular interest as artists of European descent discovered the amazing animals and natural beauty of what was, to them, a brand new continent.

Wild at Heart displays the rich history of one of North America's proudest art traditions, featuring highlights from the permanent collection of the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Instead of arranging the works chronologically, this exhibit groups the artwork into different regions, East, West, North, and South, corresponding to areas of the continent that have appealed to artists over the last century and a half. The paintings and sculptures on display feature wildlife created by some of the finest historic and contemporary American artists, painters such as Albert Bierstadt, William H. Dunton, and Bob Kuhn as well as sculptors Edward Kemeys, Albert Laessle, and Ken Bunn. Wild at Heart also features work by artists from France, Sweden, and Germany, providing a testament to the attractive nature of our wilderness areas and wildlife populations to artists from foreign countries


In the East

Wildlife art created in the East focused on the Hudson River Valley and the Adirondack Mountains, where tourists flocked to escape the growing urban areas of New York City and Boston. Beginning in the middle 1800s, artists Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Albert Bierstadt, and Worthington Whittredge painted the dense eastern forests, tree covered hills, and native wildlife. In the early 1900s, naturalist Louis Agassiz Fuertes traveled the countryside documenting the region's flora and fauna. The region is still a popular destination for tourists and artists, offering continued respite from ever-growing urban sprawl.


In the West

Throughout the 1800s, artists such as George Catlin and William Jacob Hays headed west, beyond the frontier, to paint the wildlife and landscape for an interested eastern audience. One of the west's most famous chroniclers, Charles M. Russell, was known for his humorous take on the western scene. His sculpture, The Bluffers, depicts a posturing bear and bison (the title of the piece indicates each may have a bark in mind instead of a bite). After the closing of the frontier in 1890, artists seeking untrammeled ground had to go farther into the backcountry in search of wild and pristine places. Carl Rungius began his career studying the landscape and fauna of the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Today, Tucker Smith continues to explore, study, and paint this magnificent wilderness. The west has continued to be a mecca for artists, thanks to the spectacular mountain ranges, national parks, and the remaining wildlife population, which includes birds, bison, elk, deer, bear, pronghorn, and a wide array of smaller species.


In the South

European immigrants moving across the continent soon discovered the splendor and majesty of the south and the southwest. A group of painters called the Taos Artists Society, including William H. Dunton and Ernest M. Hennings, located themselves in this region to paint the beautiful southwestern light and capture the remaining wildlife populations on canvas. Painter William R. Leigh also made the southwest a recurring subject of his work. The south is a large geographical area with many regions where wildlife congregates. Among the attractions for contemporary artists are the coastal regions, which feature both ocean-life (notably, sea-turtles, ably modeled by sculptor Kent Ullberg) and migrating avian populations (outstanding are whooping cranes, depicted with verve by Ken Carlson at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas).   


In the North

As the American West grew more populated, large wildlife populations and untouched wilderness became more difficult to locate. Artists journeyed into Canada to Banff and Jasper National Parks to locate subjects such as caribou, moose, mountain goats, and bears. Carl Rungius led this migration in the early 1900s and was followed by a host of other artists including Belmore Browne, Robert Lougheed, and Conrad Schwiering. Canada has produced some of most renowned wildlife artists working today (Robert Bateman primary among them). Canada's rugged terrain has continued to provide protected habitat for wildlife -- as attractive to them as it is for artists Chris Bacon, Michael Coleman, and Sherry Salari-Sander.

Beginning with explorer-artists and continuing with the best contemporary painters and sculptors working today, wildlife has been a consistent subject in American art. To early artists and patrons, wildlife represented a seemingly endless bounty of available natural resources. Where Europe had a proud cultural history, North America had amazing natural wonders, expanses of untouched land, and plentiful wildlife. Today, wildlife art can be interpreted from a multitude of different perspectives. It can be seen as preservationist, conservationist, nostalgic, escapist, realistic, or simply beautiful in its own right.We at the National Museum of Wildlife Art hope that this exhibit helps viewers see the connections between wildlife and art in new ways and prompts further appreciation for the wilderness that remains at the heart of what makes North America exceptional.


Wild at Heart appears at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia, from April 11-July 19, 2009.  For more information on the Booth, please visit www.boothmuseum.org. Previously, the exhibit has appeared at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in Corning, New York, and the Vero Beach Museum in Vero Beach, Florida. After the Booth installation, Wild at Heart will appear at the Art Museum of South Texas in early 2010. The National Museum of Wildlife Art is currently booking venues for late 2009 and beyond. For more information, please visit WildlifeArt.org and contact the Curatorial Department.

About the author

Adam Duncan Harris, Ph.D., is Curator of Art at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, www.wildlifeart.org.


About the exhibition

"Wild at Heart: Selections from the National Museum of Wildlife Art" features over 70 works of art from the National Museum of Wildlife Art's permanent collection in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and can be seen in Cartersville, Georgia until July 19, 2009.

"Wild at Heart" displays the history of wildlife art in North America, beginning with the early explorer-artists and continuing to the best contemporary painters and sculptors of today. Works are arranged by regions -- North, South, East, and West.

In the East, the Hudson River Valley and Adirondack Mountains have inspired artists since the mid 1800s. The South offers a wide variety of inhabitants and landscapes from the beautiful Southwestern light that attracted the Taos Society of Artists to the coastal areas that attract artists of today. The West's spectacular mountain ranges, national parks with unspoiled beauty and wildlife have attracted artists for generations. Canada became popular in the early 1900s with artists hoping to escape growing populations. Now Canada produces some of the most renowned wildlife artists working today.

Wildlife art depicts the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it, a theme that crosses cultures all over the world. The art form has it roots in prehistoric cave paintings, as those early artists showed their relations to animals. Modern artists continue this tradition and through their work inspire public appreciation of the relationship between humans and nature.

The National Museum of Wildlife Art developed "Wild at Heart" to emphasize its mission to explore and interpret humanity's relationship with wildlife and nature as it has been expressed in art. By showing how humans have historically pictured their relationship with wildlife, visitors to the exhibition can reflect on their relationships with the life forms in their own backyards.


(above: view of the Booth Western Art Museum gallery space holding the exhibition Wild at Heart: Selections from the National Museum of Wildlife Art)


(above: © Len Chmiel, Life Imitates Art, 2001, 43.75 x 59.75 inches)


(above: © William Jacob Hays, Rocky Mountain Hares, 1858, 29 x 32.75 inches)


(above: © Edward Kemeys, Panther and Deer, 1875, bronze, 16.75 x 27.75 x 12.75 inches)


Resource Library editor's note:

The above article was reprinted in Resource Library on April 4, 2009 with permission of the author, the National Museum of Wildlife Art and the Booth Western Art Museum, which was granted to TFAO on April 30, 2009.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Kathy Lyles of the Western Art Museum for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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and biographical information on artists cited in this article in America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.


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