“Art” does not leap to mind when one hears the words “Jackson, Wyoming.” Nevertheless, just outside of town is a gem of a museum with a scenic setting, a fine restaurant and a thoroughly diverting collection. Visiting the National Museum of Wildlife Art makes for a wonderful change of pace from exploring the outdoors.
Rather than making the five-minute drive from downtown Jackson to the museum, we rented bikes from Hoback Sports and pedaled up a dedicated path sandwiched between Highway 191 and the National Elk Refuge. The route was paved and essentially flat, making the sunny ride both beautiful and easy, with only the whooshes of passing cars disturbing the tranquility.
After locking our bikes, we walked up the hill to the museum, a low-rise building of rough-hewn stone that blends well into the landscape. Monumental bronze sculptures decorate its grounds, which have panoramic views of a broad valley bisected by a crumpled ribbon of a stream. I especially liked the group of bronzes by Todd McGrain representing various birds driven to extinction, and the “Spirit Totems,” by Herb Alpert, who is better known as a musician. His line of abstract poles cut a striking and enigmatic profile against the landscape.
Inside, the easily digestible and uncrowded museum contains numerous gems. A small Rodin sculpture of a lion roars in the gallery of European art, his face aimed toward “The Enchantress,” an opulent iris-speckled painting by Arthur Wardle that depicts a scene from the ancient myth of Amethystos. I also very much enjoyed the gallery of evocative works by Carl Rungius, who painted expansive scenes in the Rockies and New Brunswick. And it was a pleasure to walk down a hallway of up-to-the-minute contemporary pieces. Don’t miss the exquisite “Chasing Fish,” painted in 2019 by He Xi, a dramatic but tightly composed scene of a kingfisher diving toward its prey.
In spite of visiting during high season, we encountered only a handful of other museumgoers, making it easy to keep our distance from them. Masks were required, and each gallery had an occupancy limit, usually ranging from six to eight people.
Before or after enjoying the art, I recommend lunching at the museum’s friendly restaurant, Palate, which has a panoramic patio overlooking the National Elk Refuge. The combination of the museum and the restaurant makes for a delightful half-day excursion, one I would happily repeat.
National Museum of Wildlife Art
2820 Rungius Road, Jackson. Tel. (307) 733-5771