Along one of Bergen County’s busiest roadways and on top of a hill overlooking the Hackensack River sits a world class wildlife art museum.
Located in Oradell, the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum was established in 1957 by the conservationist, philanthropist, and collector Hiram Blauvelt. According to the museum’s website, Blauvelt donated his private wildlife art and big game collections to promote the “cultural value of wildlife art” along with the conservation of its subjects.
Before entering the museum, one passes several outdoor sculptures. My personal favorite was a bronze African lion created by Aaron Yount, titled ‘EDIS ET VIRTUS.’
Once inside the cedar shingle and turret carriage house (built in 1893), a large reception area with rotating artwork is followed by four galleries featuring paintings and sculptures.
No visit to this museum would be complete without seeing wildlife painter Carl Rungius’ monster-size oil painting “Mountain Monarch,” a portrait or
Rocky Mountain elk and jaw-dropping mountain scenery.
“Carl Rungius is one of the most famous wildlife artists ever,” museum director James Bellis said before taking me to one of his favorite works, an oil on canvas painting of a pair of doves by Nancy Howe, titled “Watching Over You.”
Some of the works that particularly moved me were “At the Waterhole,” African elephants and birds painted by Jan Martin McGuire; painter Lynn Bogue Hunt’s oil on canvas work titled, “Wild Turkeys;” the great Egret depicted in Matthew Hiller’s “Into the Light;” and Darryn Eggleton’s pastel on paper creation of a leopard titled “Just Chillin.”
I could go on, and in fact I will.
Another must-see — and one that can only happen by appointment — is the Trophy Room located on the second floor. Here, animals from Blauvelt’s hunting adventures taken on excursions throughout Africa, Asia, and North America during the ‘40s and ‘50s are featured. A deer head hunted by Yankee slugger Babe Ruth was also on display.
Bellis said that the museum happens to be only one of five such institutions in the United States that “solely focus on wildlife art.” Others with this specialty include the National Wildlife Museum in Jackson, Wyoming, and the Roger Torie Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York.
During my visit, I had an opportunity to observe Dianna Hohlig, the museum’s current Artist in Residence working in what she described as a scratchboard format.
“It is like engraving — a slow process, but it achieves great details,” she said. Hohlig was creating the likeness of a Canadian goose, a species which she said was “rare in Switzerland,” her native country.
Hohlig has been at the museum since 2022, living in a furnished house located on the property. Residents are also provided a studio, art supplies, and display space. “There have been six [artists in residence] so far and they all have done extremely well,” Bellis said. “And they live here for one to three years.”
Hohlig became aware of the program through her membership to the Society of Animal Artists, a group who have been very involved with the Blauvelt Museum since the 1980s.
“We have had a long relationship the Society of Animal Artists and have hosted several of their annual shows,” Bellis said.
A new traveling exhibition featuring Colorado-based Ezra Tucker, also a member of the Society of Animal Artists, is set to appear this summer.
Toward the end of my visit, Bellis said he was working on generating more foot traffic to the museum. “We have good visitation on weekends but during the week, it is not as robust,” he said. “There is no shortage of quality artwork or of artists to exhibit.”
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