The Briscoe Western Art Museum will celebrate the opening of its latest exhibition, Art and the Animal, with special programming this weekend.

Offering several arts and animal activities for families, an event called Wild West, Wildlife! looks to draw the community into the new exhibition. The event will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, the museum will screen three thematically linked films – Lions of West Texas, Pronghorn Revival, and Return of the Desert Bighorn – in conjunction with the exhibition and in partnership with the Wild Texas Film Tour.

The exhibition itself finds the Briscoe playing host to the Society of Animal Artists (SAA) – the world’s oldest animal art organization, which has more than 500 members and was founded in 1960 – for its 59th annual juried members exhibition. The annual exhibition is hosted in a different location each year, but this is the first time it has landed in San Antonio since 1980.

Art and the Animal will feature more than 100 animal and wildlife-centered paintings and sculptures from all over the world. It will be on display in the museum’s Jack Guenther Pavilion through Jan. 5.

“This educational exhibit will appeal to audiences of all ages and showcases a variety of works, featuring animal species from around the world,” stated Michael Duchemin, Briscoe president and CEO, in a news release.

The natural world and the animals that inhabit it are inextricably tied to the West, making the exhibition a meaningful fit for the Briscoe, said artist Renee Bemis, president of the SAA. 

The works in the exhibition this year were selected from more than 400 entries, and membership in the SAA is itself a juried process. As such, she explained, visitors can expect the best of the best in animal art.

“Nature art and animal art is intimately connected to Western art and to our thinking about the West,” she said.

Bemis said animal and wildlife art is especially valuable now, in the current collective state of heightened awareness about the natural world and the strain it is under.

“If you want to really capture the essence of an animal you have to visit it, to sit with it, to appreciate and understand it in its own environment,” she said, noting that animal artists are animal lovers first and many are also conservationists. 

“The animal kingdom … we are a part of it … and to see that more clearly we need to respect and honor it,” she said. “Without the animals, we just won’t exist.

“Animal art can help bring awareness to what’s going on in the world with the animal kingdom and can also help bring that sense of respect and awe that is so important.”

Some artists, Bemis said, advocate for animals by showing their various plights and directly “seeking to bring awareness of ecological crisis,” but others choose to simply celebrate and uplift that which they would like to see protected.

“As artists we have a tendency to focus on the negative, to show conflict,” she said, “but sometimes that’s too much for people, too in-your-face.” 

As a part of the SAA’s ramp-up to this exhibition and the educational component of its mission, student artists in local high schools were invited to submit their own animal artwork for possible exhibition. The SAA received 67 entries from 13 schools and 57 students. 

The work of four selected finalists from four area high schools will be on display alongside that of the SAA artists in the exhibition all weekend, with all finalists and their art teachers receiving financial awards for their achievements.

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.