A Membership; A Way of Life

> Story by Kirsten Rue
> Photography by Latham Jenkins and Courtesy of the National Museum of Wildlife Art

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UPCOMING EVENTS:
ART AROUND THE VALLEY
COLLECTORS CIRCLE DINNER
HOLIDAY PARTY AT THE MUSEUM

Humans have eternally peered into the wilderness in their search for meaning, and often the wilderness has peered right back. From the great bison herds of the American Plains to rare birds painstakingly expressed in pen and ink, the mission of the National Museum of Wildlife Art has always been to investigate humanity’s relationship to wild animals. This occurs daily within its walls, and also via its spectacular setting overlooking the savanna-like undulations of the National Elk Refuge.

Who is Carl Rungius?
Germany, 1869-1959. Considered by many to be the most significant painter of American and Canadian wildlife, his works capturing North America’s large game in the wild brought visions of a mythic wilderness to the wider world.

It follows that patrons and collectors who hold a deep connection to both nature and artwork depicting wildlife feel at home at the museum, as well as in the company of one another.

Enter the Rungius Society and the Collectors Circle: part social clubs, part philanthropic arm of the museum. Their 500 members enjoy a variety of perks. During Rungius events, members open their homes for attendees to browse private collections and mingle in a sophisticated party atmosphere. Rungius Society members also obtain unparalleled access to the museum’s exhibitions, often before the general public. From behind-the-scenes programs with artists to the immensely popular Art Around the Valley event touring homes and studios, social and artistic interests combine for truly indelible experiences.

“The Rungius Society creates an organization that group members can belong to that does not take a great deal of money, yet allows as many people as possible to contribute to the museum and ensure its vitality to the community and its visitors,” says Tony Greene, former chair of the board of trustees. He has been involved with the museum since it moved from downtown Jackson to its current location in 1994. In addition, he and his wife, Joy, are avid collectors of wildlife art themselves, remaining very involved in orchestrating events and parties for fellow society members. The Greene Pathway is named in their honor.

Collectors Circle members, who represent an even more close-knit and passionate group, support the museum in manifold ways while shaping the direction of its permanent collection. Members raise funds to purchase new works and vote on which works to acquire at an annual gala.

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Artistic Gatherings: Rungius Society members find social community attuned to their aesthetic interests at one of the annual Art Around the Valley events.

Ann Scheflen, director of advancement at the museum, says she often hears, “You think of it as a membership; I think of it as a lifestyle.”

For Greene, the social benefits of his membership in both the Rungius Society and Collectors Circle are obvious, but it’s the deeper role he can play in connecting the museum to the surrounding Jackson Hole community and its younger generations that proves invaluable.

“One thing we need to do in the art world is get people involved in the arts at an early time,” he says, pointing out that Rungius Society and Collectors Circle fundraising contributes directly to program costs for the children’s education center.

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Private Collections: Members and collectors, such as Tony Greene, generously give access to their superb collections. Pictured to the left is “Moose Falls,” by renowned wildlife artist Tucker Smith. Pictured below, “The Buffalo Trail” by Richard Loffler, “Black Timber Bugler” by Tim Shinabarger, and a painting by Roy Andersen.

Connections: Joy and Tony Greene pose with artist Sandy Scott in front of her sculpture, “Presidential Eagle,” on the National Museum of Wildlife Art’s Sculpture Trail.

Museum President and CEO James McNutt highlights that fact, too, explaining that this crucial funding helps hire professional instructors to design curricula for local and visiting children, among other public-facing programs. “The activity of the Rungius Society may be to come to events at the museum and share the member benefits, but the real impact of their generosity is felt in all the programming that affects the community and continues from year to year.”

For museum patrons, the emotional response the wildlife of Jackson Hole provokes in all of us is reinforced by the powerful identification they feel when inspecting the realistically rendered musculature of the figures on the Sculpture Trail or through reflection on a painting that speaks to them. With a shared zeal for conservation, representations of the natural world, and a global fellowship of similar enthusiasts, the museum’s membership groups are beloved for a reason.

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Friendships Forged: Mel Shapanka, Teddie Lou McNamara, Annie Green, and Bonnie Shapanka mingle outdoors during a Rungius Society party.

This fount of friendship and philanthropy, in turn, gives back to a world-class institution of learning and inspiration. We’d call that a win for us all.

National Museum of Wildlife Art
2820 Rungius Rd, Jackson, Wyoming | 307-733-5771 | wildlifeart.org