You Won’t Want To Miss This Wild and Wonderful Art Exhibit in Wheeling

Herons and zebras and owls, oh my!

Not to mention rabbits and robins, pythons and penguins, cheetahs and chickadees, and bobcats and bison.

You can see all of above and more at the Society of Animal Artists Art and the Animal 63rd Annual Members Exhibition at the Oglebay Institute Stifel Fine Arts now through Oct. 28.

Artists from as far as Australia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Scotland, and Sweden, and as near as Ohio and Pennsylvania, join others from at least 30 other states across the country to display their work at the center. More than 100 works in a variety of media — bronze, oil, acrylic, colored pencil, pen and ink, scratchboard, watercolor, mixed media — are on display.

Maple leaf and owl inspired bronze sculpture Autumn Splendor by SAA master artist Gerald Balciar (Parker, Colorado).

It’s a Big Deal

Why did such an important exhibition land in Wheeling?

The Stifel Fine Arts Center was on the Society of Animal Artists’ radar because it housed one of the touring shows in 2005, according to Rick Morgan, director of the Stifel Fine Arts Center.

Tour manager David Wagner approached Morgan, asking if they’d be interested in the full show.

Of course, Morgan said yes, noting not only the prestige it would bring to Wheeling — the society is an international arts guild — but also the opportunity for area and regional residents to have access to such an important show.

“I’m exposing high-quality work to our general public. I see the Stifel as a resource to the community. I want people to look at the Stifel Fine Arts Center as ‘THAT gallery’ that brings in national and international work,” he said.

Curator lisa rasmussen and Stifel Fine Arts Center director Rick Morgan with Someone to Watch Over Me III by SAA member John Banovich (Livingston, Montana).

“So, we went for it. … I was excited to have the full exhibition here. … These artists are the top animal artists in the world. It’s a very big honor to be accepted into the society. For us to have [the exhibition] in little Wheeling, West Virginia, I was thrilled. It’s a big deal.”

“West Virginia has never housed the full exhibit,” he said. “And we are ‘Wild and Wonderful.’ Why would you not want to have an exhibit of all of these animals in this beautiful state?”

Morgan also pointed out, it’s free!

Wheeling Shows Its Stripes at the Perfect Spot

Wagner, whose goal is to find the right spots for the full and touring exhibits — a job his company, David J. Wagner, L.L.C. has had for many years — cited a handful of reasons why the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling, West Virginia, was selected.

He recalled the warm reception the traveling show received when it was at the Stifel in 2005. And, he also realized the full show had never been in Wheeling, or in the state, for that matter.  

Another reason Oglebay Institute was a good location for the show, he said, was the multi-disciplinary nature of the organization — art, culture, science, and performing arts. It’s just as diverse as Art and the Animal, making the exhibit a perfect fit for Oglebay Institute.

The exhibit is “good family education and entertainment. … It’s a very wholesome exhibition, very accessible.”

In other words, the exhibition and Oglebay Institute have the same mission, Wagner said, adding, they are “good, logical companions.”

Also, Wheeling makes “good geographic sense.”

“If you draw a big circle around the city, and go out about 300-400 miles, it includes a lot of people. … A lot of people can drive to see the show, and participating artists can drive there as well. It reaches a critical mass of the population.”

Wagner also recalled the wide-open staircase featured at the Stifel Fine Arts Center, allowing a wonderful vista for viewing the works of art. “There are all sorts of sight lines and vantage points. You can be downstairs and gaze up; and be upstairs and gaze down. 

“It’s almost like walking through a nature sanctuary; you can go around and enjoy it from a distance or close-up. … That to me had an appeal.”

“I took all those reasons, shook up the container, and it made perfect sense. And, lo and behold, [Oglebay Institute] felt the same way,” he said.

Extraordinary Work

As Morgan unpacked the crates as they arrived at the Stifel Center, he could be heard exclaiming, “Oh my gosh … oh my gosh … oh my gosh,” as one after another after another piece of art saw the light of day. “Every piece you opened was a new, exciting experience.”

And, now, from those who visit the center, he hears over and over and over, “Wow, this is really, really good.” And, “word of mouth keeps people trickling in,” he said.  

There are a noticeable number of zebras in the show, but all of a different ilk.

“I like the fact that the zebras are in different mediums — scratchboard, watercolor, acrylic. They’re done in different ways. That’s impressive,” he said.

Autumn-themed acrylic painting Piper’s Pillow by SAA member John Mullane (Bronx, New York).

“The wolf looks like a photograph, but you can go up to it and see the brush strokes, the thickness of the paint. That’s the importance of seeing artwork in person. There’s super realism, until you go up close and see the brush strokes.”

Take a close look at the painting of the ram. “You can see moisture on the nose, on the eyes. For me, I find that very impressive. It looks like the nose is wet. But it’s not. Their eyes are glossy. But, they’re not.”

One of Morgan’s favorite pieces is a sculpture of a barred owl on a piece of wood, titled “Prey Mantling.” The wood looks like stone, and a pile of leaves looks like, well, a pile of leaves. “Woodcarving is so challenging … the detail and how delicate it looks, it’s unbelievable, it’s phenomenal.” 

Another favorite — although, he admits it’s truly difficult to pick a favorite — is an oil painting of three cows, “Holstein Cow.” 

“It makes me smile, it’s joyful,” he said.

One piece, an oil on Belgian linen, titled “Someone to Watch Over Me III” — was delivered in a temperature-controlled truck. It’s the only piece with an NFS (not for sale) label on it.

“Animals are always around us, and to come in and see the artists’ interpretation of the animals we love, it’s super exciting and relatable,” Morgan said.

The Society of Animal Artists’ 63rd Annual Exhibition Art and the Animal display at Stifel Fine Arts Center gallery.

The Society

In the 1950s, a group of nine artists gathered to exchange ideas. Then, in 1958, when their first exhibit, Animals in Bronx Zoo, was met with an enthusiastic response, it inspired the formation of the Society of Animal Artists, founded in 1960. 

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The society is devoted to promoting excellence in the artistic portrayal of the creatures sharing the planet, and to the education of the public through exhibitions, seminars, lectures, and demonstrations, according to the exhibit catalog. 

Today, there are more than 500 painters and sculptors in 25 countries working in the genre of animal art.

Artwork for the exhibit was selected in a highly competitive jury process.

Following the close of the Wheeling exhibit, which is sponsored by United Bank, 45 paintings and 15 sculptures will tour to Oradell, New Jersey, Logan, Kansas, and Chicago, Illinois.

Calling All Animal Lovers

Before the work heads out on the road, Morgan wants as many people to experience the show. To that end, he’s programmed several special events.

In September, he held a dog meet-and-greet day. The Road Home Animal Project brought foster dogs in their care to Stifel, hoping for some adoptions.

“I’d say 90 percent of the people [who attended the meet-and-greet] have never been in this building,” he said. He told them what was going on inside, and “I made sure they knew it was free.”

A pet costume contest and photo sessions with talented photographer Scott McCloskey are on tap for Oct. 21.


Animal Painting Workshop with Kim Freithaler
Saturday, Sept. 23; 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; $75/$70 OI Members
Register online at or call 304-242-7700.

This one-day workshop is open to oil or acrylic painters with some painting and drawing experience. Newer artists will concentrate on compositions, lighting, and palettes that lead to a good painting. More experienced artists can refine their painting skills and concentrate on nuances of fur, expressions, and poses.

This workshop will cover choosing the right reference material, features, and textures such as fur. Lighting and composition will also be discussed. Demonstrations will be given, followed by individual instruction. Participants will learn the techniques necessary for a successful animal painting.

Please bring at least one animal photo that you would like to paint. Several are better. Make sure there is enough detail to use. Bigger is better! An 8×10 blow up helps. The materials list provided is a suggestion. If you have paint supplies that you are comfortable using, just bring them. No worries here. Virtually everything we mix will make brown!

About the Instructor
Kim Freithaler is originally from New York City and has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from St. John’s University, where she completed an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has also studied at the Art Students League in Manhattan.

She taught art in Manhattan public schools and currently teaches painting at the North Hills Art Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she is the executive director.

She is an award-winning painter who exhibits her work in galleries, as well as local businesses. Her murals are installed in public buildings both here and in Georgia. Oil portraits are done by commission.

Reception with SAA Artists
Friday, Oct. 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m. 

Exclusively for Oglebay Institute members and special guests

OI members and invited guests can meet and mingle with more than 60 members of the Society of Animal Artists during a special reception and awards ceremony.

Register at or call 304-242-7700 to attend the artists reception. 

David Rankin Shape Sketching© Workshop
Saturday, Oct. 14; 1–4 p.m.; $90/$85 OI Members
Register at or call 304-242-7700.

Sketch birds and animals in a special artist workshop with drawing master David Rankin.

Try Rankin’s unique Shape Sketching© procedures that he uses to sketch birds and animals around the world. Bring a sketchbook and two different kinds of graphite pencils — a 9B woodless graphite pencil and a 2B pencil. Learn this amazing sketching procedure from one of the world’s most celebrated watercolor painters and animal artists. Sketch birds and animals of all kinds in a more enjoyable and effective way.

About the Instructor
David Rankin is a professional watercolor painter. He is a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art and a successful author and lecturer. His watercolors have been featured in numerous watercolor books & magazines and in many one-man exhibitions and more than 60 museum exhibitions across North America as well as in Japan and Sweden.

David is one of the true modern-day masters of transparent watercolor, and he exudes a dynamic passion for the medium in his lectures, demos, and class instruction as well as in his own studio or field work. He is one of the most effective watercolor teachers in the world today.

Pet Costume Contest and Halloween-themed Pet Photography Portraits
Saturday, Oct. 21; noon–3 p.m.

Bring your pet dressed in their best Halloween costume and enter them into our Pet Costume Contest on the front lawn of Stifel Fine Arts Center for a chance to win a fun pet themed basket of goodies. You can also purchase a beautiful Halloween-themed pet photography portrait that will give you an enduring reminder of joy your pet brings. Photos will be taken by Scott McCloskey for $15 per session. Spaces for pet portraits are limited. You must register in advance for a time slot and arrive at your scheduled time.

Register at for Pet Portraits or call 304-242-7700.


The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Admission is free. The Stifel Fine Arts Center is located at 1330 National Road, Wheeling, West Virginia.


To view the online exhibition, visit

You can also download the Art and the Animal exhibition catalog here