On your way in to Jackson from Dubois, on the right-hand side of the road before the big bend left that goes into town, there’s a stone-colored building that both blends in and stands out. It blends in on purpose, because it was intended to. It stands out because its design is beguiling.
The first time you see it, you’ll ask what it is, and being an artist, you’ll want to go in when you hear it is an art museum. And inside…inside is quite simply the most amazing collection of wildlife art in the United States. Jackson, Wyoming, is not a big city, and although it has money in it, Jackson generally doesn’t do or build big things. It might ruin the charm.
Which only makes this museum outside of town all the more exceptional. Representational artists aren’t the only ones who recognize this. The National Museum of Wildlife Art attracts 80,000 visitors a year, and the U.S. Congress named it the official wildlife art museum of the country in 2008.
How did this happen? Because of Joffra and Bill Kerr.
The Kerrs, who worked in the oil industry in Oklahoma, built a vast collection of wildlife art over the years. They collected pieces from some of the biggest names in wildlife art including Les Kouba, Bob Kuhn, Robert Bateman, and Ken Carlson. Many of the best pieces are on display at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, including the largest public collection of Carl Rungius works.
Robert Koenke, a Susan Kathleen Black Foundation board member and the previous owner, publisher, and editor of Wildlife Art magazine, says it’s not so much the amount of the work the Kerrs collected, but the quality of it. “They go for the very best,” says Koenke. “This shows in their collection of Rungius. There are more Rungius pieces elsewhere, but the finest are in Jackson.”
The museum first opened its doors in 1987 in a more modest home, a storefront on Jackson’s Town Square that once served as a bank, which was given to the Kerrs for $1 for use as a museum. It moved to its current home on the side of the hill overlooking the National Elk Refuge in 1994. The 51,000-square-foot museum is now the host for more than 5,000 catalogued pieces.
On April 16, 2014, Koenke and Jim Parkman, the chairman of the SKB Foundation, surprised the Kerrs in Jackson with the SKB Lifetime Achievement Award. “I doubt that anyone else has done more to advance and honor wildlife art than Bill and Joffra Kerr,” comments Parkman. “Their accomplishments are awe-inspiring.”
Concurs Koenke, “I don’t think there’s any place in the world where you can better see the breadth of how man has painted animals through the years. The National Museum of Wildlife Art’s collection is the greatest representation how man has painted animals—which incidentally was the first subject of art, the stuff of cave paintings. This tradition is well represented with incredible work in the museum the Kerrs started. The quality is astounding.”
To mark the Kerrs’ award, SKB presented an 11″ crystal tower to Joffra and Bill Kerr that has the inscription, “The SKB Foundation, in honor and with great respect and admiration of their lifetime of achievement, and their support of the art community, hereby confer upon them its lifetime achievement award.” Ω