The thriving town of Solvang has a new feature that every visitor should want to return to again and again. A greatly expanded and elegantly designed new version of the Wildling Museum opened on Saturday, August 24, at 1511-B Mission Drive, with parking right off of Solvang’s main drag. The former location of Backdoor Board has been completely remodeled, and it makes a wonderful gallery space, with high ceilings, multiple areas for exhibition and study, and a charming, relaxed atmosphere that thoroughly keeps not only with Solvang’s laid-back groove but also with the eco-friendly mission of the Wildling Museum organization.

Begun in 1997 by artist Patti Jacquemain and a group of like-minded art and nature enthusiasts, the Wildling quickly outgrew its original location but nevertheless managed to broaden its scope and develop its programs, which include many field trips, as well as traditional gallery shows. Then last year, the opportunity to expand arose. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Executive Director Stacey Otte and her team, which includes a particularly devoted group of volunteers, the new museum was able to open its doors for a ribbon-cutting event on Friday, August 23, and to fully accept visitors for a public open house on August 24.

The opening exhibitions — and there are several — reveal the breadth, intelligence, and sensitivity with which the Wildling has sought to fulfill its mission of promoting the stewardship of nature through the medium of art. In the main gallery space, there’s a retrospective of works depicting Wilderness in Art that illustrates the strengths of the Wildling’s collection and its connections to other institutions and collectors in the area. Major works by Fernand Lungren, Ray Strong, and Lockwood de Forest anchor a show that ranges from plein air painting through wood and linoleum cuts all the way to contemporary underwater photography. Kids will love the amazing Ernie Brooks underwater photo of a shark, “Profile in Blue,” and will continue to be thrilled when they turn the corner and find Bryant Austin’s life-size photo of a young blue whale. Upstairs, the gallery spaces include a small atrium specially lit and filled with Bud Bottoms’s signature dolphin sculptures and an adjacent area in which Patrick O’Hara’s images of native California plants and the butterflies that love them are on display. The O’Hara work comes from the collection of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and the exhibit is supported by framed examples from the Garden’s extensive herbarium collection.

The entire museum is a testament to the collaborative efforts of all the many ecologically and artistically minded citizens who have made our area such a haven for the thoughtful and curious. In addition to providing regular exhibits, the new Wildling maintains a research collection and study area that’s open to the public, so make sure to use this fantastic new resource the next time you head out into the great outdoors.


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