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Wildlife art: portraits of an untamed country

An exhibit on North American wildlife art inspires passion and informs science.

‘Rocky Wilderness Cougar’ (1980), by Robert Bateman.

Artwork courtesy of the National Museum of Wildlife Art

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For nearly a month, Dwayne Harty never saw a jet contrail tapering overhead in the sky as he traversed the wilderness of Canada. If that seems unusual, what he did encounter was even more remarkable: five notoriously reclusive wolverines, a dozen grizzly bears, caribou, and bighorn sheep streaming through preternatural gaps in glacier-coated mountains.

Whenever wolves howled, which at the far northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains was a daily occurrence, he could feel the pounding heart of his packhorse beneath him.

Like other famous wildlife painters before him, Mr. Harty sought out a frontier untrammeled by civilization. What he brought back from his multiyear sojourns are stunning chronicles on canvas of ­solitude-seeking animals – "indicator species" whose well-being can telegraph environmental conditions to monitoring scientists and society at large.

"This incredible assemblage of wildlife art," says conservationist-turned-art curator Harvey Locke, "is like having a three-way mirror positioned in front of one of the wildest terrestrial corridors on Earth. And, lo and behold, it happens to be situated in the backyard of America and Canada."


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