Artists have long been attracted by the beauty of Jackson Hole  and the Tetons. Mount Moran, the 12,605-foot summit behind Jackson Lake , is named for Thomas Moran, whose watercolors helped persuade Congress to set aside Yellowstone  as the first national park. The late Conrad Schwiering’s paintings of the Tetons have attained international fame; one was even used on the Postal Service’s Wyoming Centennial stamp in 1990.
Ansel Adams’s photograph of the Tetons remains etched in the American consciousness as one of the archetypal wilderness images. A copy of the image was included in the payload of the Voyager II spacecraft en route out of our solar system.
Today many artists live or work in Jackson Hole, and locals proclaim it “Art Center of the Rockies,” ranking it with New York, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Scottsdale.
Jackson  is home to the magnificent National Museum of Wildlife Art (307/733-5771 or 800/313-9553, www.wildlifeart.org ), two miles north of town along U.S. Highway 26/89 and directly across from the National Elk Refuge . A monumental sculpture of five elk greets visitors at the base of the hill, and the building’s Arizona sandstone exterior blends in with nearby rock outcroppings.
Step inside the doors of this 51,000-square-foot museum to discover a marvelous interior. As visitors enter the main gallery, a larger-than-life bronze mountain lion crouches above, ready to pounce. Kids will have fun in the hands-on Children’s Discovery Gallery and can join hands-in-the-paint activities on Monday mornings.
Adults will appreciate the artwork spread throughout a dozen galleries, along with the video theater, Rising Sage Café (tasty lunches), 200-seat auditorium, and gift shop. Cyclists and those on foot can access the museum from an underpass beneath the highway that connects with the bike path to Jackson. A sculpture garden is scheduled for completion in 2012.
The museum collection features pieces by Carl Rungius, George Catlin, Albert Bierstadt, Karl Bodmer, Alfred Jacob Miller, N. C. Wyeth, Conrad Schwiering, John Clymer, Charles Russell, Robert Bateman, and many others. Of particular interest are the reconstructed studio of John Clymer and the spacious Carl Rungius Gallery, where you’ll find the most complete collection of Clymer’s paintings in the nation. Also of note is the exhibit on American bison, which documents these once vastly abundant animals and their slaughter; the museum’s bison collection is the largest in the world.
Six galleries showcase photography, painting, and other art that changes throughout the year. Spotting scopes in the cozy members’ lounge (open to the public) are useful for watching residents of the adjacent National Elk Refuge .
Museum admission is $12 adults, $10 seniors, $6 ages 5-18; free for kids under five. Hours are daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. in summer, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday mid-October-April. The museum is closed Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Columbus Day. Free audio tours detail works in the permanent collection, and you can watch films on wildlife.
Wildlife films, slide lectures, talks, concerts, kids’ programs, and other activities take place throughout the year in the auditorium and galleries; pick up a schedule of upcoming events at the entrance desk or visit the museum website. One of the most popular events, Western Visions, comes in late September. It includes jewelry, photography, and the Miniature Show & Sale, with small works by 100 of the country’s leading artists. A winter highlight is Art After Hours/Tapas Tuesdays (5-9 p.m. Tues., Dec.-Mar.), when the museum opens for après-ski programs combined with tapas served by Rising Sage Café.
More than 30 galleries crowd the center of Jackson . As the town has grown, local galleries have also evolved. You’ll still find places selling ludicrously romanticized cowboy paintings and campy prints of sexy Indian maidens with windblown hair and strategically torn garments, but the town is increasingly filled with galleries that exhibit sophisticated and contemporary works.
The Jackson Hole Gallery Association (www.jacksonholegalleries.com ) produces a helpful gallery guide; pick up one from local galleries or the visitor center. Third Thursday Art Walks are a monthly staple, when many galleries open for extended evening hours June-October. Tammy Christel of Jackson Hole Art Tours (307/690-1983, www.jacksonholearttours.com ) leads informative gallery tours.
Excellent galleries with changing exhibits of modern art are RARE Gallery (60 E. Broadway, 2nd floor, 307/733-8726, www.raregalleryjacksonhole.com ), Diehl Gallery (155 W. Broadway, 307/733-0905, www.diehlgallery.com ), Tayloe Piggott Gallery (62 S. Glenwood St., 307/733-0555, www.tayloepiggottgallery.com ), Altamira Fine Art (172 Center St., 307/739-4700, www.altamiraart.com ), and Teton Artlab (307/699-0836, www.tetonartlab.com ) inside the Center for the Arts at 240 S. Glenwood. All are well worth a visit, as is Wild Hands (265 W. Pearl Ave., 307/733-4619, www.wildhands.com ), with functional and playful art and pottery.
In a quiet spot just a block off Town Square , the two-level Trailside Galleries (130 E. Broadway, 307/733-3186, www.trailsidegalleries.com ) displays everything from grandiose Western works to impressionist and wildlife art. Other traditionalist galleries worth a look are Mountain Trails Gallery (150 N. Center St., 307/734-8150, www.mtntrails.net ), Legacy Gallery (75 N. Cache, 307/733-2353, www.legacygallery.com ), Joanne Hennes Gallery (5850 N. Larkspur Dr., 307/733-2593, www.joannehennes.com ), and Wilcox Gallery (165 Center St., 307/733-3950, www.wilcoxgallery.com ).
Rawson Galleries (50 King St., 307/733-7306) features traditional watercolors, displayed in a crowded space; open July-October.
For a very different type of art, visit By Nature Gallery (86 E. Broadway, 307/200-6060, www.bynaturegallery.com ), where unique furnishings have been created from fossilized fish, minerals, and more.
Many nationally known photographers live or work in Jackson Hole . Tom Mangelsen displays his outstanding wildlife and landscape photos at Images of Nature Gallery (170 N. Cache Dr., 307/733-9752 or 888/238-0177, www.mangelsen.com ) and has galleries at 15 other locations around the country.
Inside Wild by Nature Gallery (95 W. Deloney, 307/733-8877 or 888/494-5329, www.wildbynature.com ), photographer Henry H. Holdsworth shows strikingly beautiful wildlife and nature imagery.
In Gaslight Alley at 125 North Cache, Brookover Gallery (307/733-3988, www.brookovergallery.com ) exhibits grandiose landscapes by photographer David Brookover, who works with an 8x10 camera.
At Oswald Gallery (165 N. Center St., 888/898-0077, www.oswaldgallery.com ) the emphasis is on contemporary fine-art photography. There’s always something visually challenging; this isn’t the place to look for pretty nature scenes.
If you have any doubts that Jackson Hole is an arts mecca, look no further than the modern Jackson Hole Center for the Arts (240 S. Glenwood, 307/734-8956, www.jhcenterforthearts.org ). This 41,000-square-foot masterpiece has space for 15 different nonprofit arts organizations under one roof, with an amazing array of classes and workshops. Drop by to pick up a schedule of classes. Newly added in 2007, the 525-seat Performing Arts Pavilion is a lovely performance space. Call the box office for tickets, 307/733-4900, or find the online calendar of upcoming performances.
One of the primary tenants is the Art Association (307/733-6379, www.artassociation.org ), offering dozens of classes and workshops year-round in everything from photography and ceramics to stained glass and woodworking. The on-site ArtSpace Gallery displays changing exhibitions by regional and national artists.
Dancer’s Workshop (307/733-6398, www.dwjh.org ) occupies much of the second floor, with dozens of classes weekly in modern, ballet, pointe, hip-hop, ballroom, jazz, country-and-western, and other dance forms. The facilities also house Contemporary Dance Wyoming, the state’s only professional dance company.
Also at the Center for the Arts, Off Square Theatre Company (307/733-3670, www.offsquare.org ) is a professional repertory company with comedies in the summer and a wide variety of productions and workshops throughout the winter.