Wesley Wehr

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Wesley Conrad Wehr
Born April 17, 1929
Everett, Washington
Died April 12, 2004 (2004-04-13) (aged 74)
Seattle, Washington
Nationality United States
Known for Fossil leaf analysis, painting
Scientific career
Fields Paleobotany, The Northwest School
Institutions Burke Museum

Wesley Conrad Wehr (April 17, 1929 – April 12, 2004) was an American paleontologist and artist best known for his studies of Cenozoic fossil floras in western North America, the Stonerose Interpretive Center, and as a part of the Northwest School of art. Wehr published two books with University of Washington Press that chronicled his friendships with artists and scientists.[1] [2]

Early life[edit]

Wesley Conrad Wehr was born as the only child of Conrad J. Wehr and Ingeborg (Hall) Wehr, in Everett, Washington on April 17, 1929. As a child he displayed an aptitude for music which was encouraged with private lessons. In his senior year of high school, two of his compositions Pastoral Sketches for Violin and Piano and Spanish Dance came to the attention of George F. McKay, then and instructor at the University of Washington. McKay invited Wehr for private study with him, and in 1947 Wehr entered the University.[2] He was a recipient of the Lorraine Decker Campbell Award for original composition, He graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Arts then with his Master of Arts in 1954. Wehr first began painting in 1960.[3]

Fossil Rhus malloryi leaf, described by Wolfe and Wehr in 1987


Wes had a creative spirit that was expressed in many ways. He started out with music composition, and later studied poetry with Theodore Roethke. Painter Mark Tobey was introduced to Wehr in 1949 by their pianist friend Berthe Poncy Jacobson. Wehr, an undergraduate at the time, happily accepted the opportunity to serve as a stand-in music composition tutor for Tobey, and over time became friends with him and his circle of artists. Tobey introduced Wehr to Guy Anderson, Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, Pehr Hallsten, and Helmi Juvonen. Tobey encouraged him in painting, and Guy Anderson insisted he learn how to draw.

Wehr was a student of the noted poet Elizabeth Bishop in 1953, and in 1967 she wrote a gallery note for a showing of Wehr's paintings. In the gallery note she commented on the small size of his works and compared them to short works of music. In a similar reflection, Bishop commented on Wehr transporting new works in an old briefcase and showing them at a local coffee house, and the effect the painting had on those viewing them. Bishop notes that Wehr was a collector of natural objects such as agates, amber, and fossils. She noted that Wehr's works possessed a "chilling sensation of time and space".[4]

Wes maintained enduring friendships with many artists, including painter Jay Steensma, with whom he frequented University District coffee houses, where the two made drawings by the dozens. Wes collected works by Steensma and other artists, and he donated many of these works to selected museums around the northwest. A 2006 Annual Report noted, "The Whatcom Museum also had a remarkable year with regard to donations. Most significant was the Wesley Wehr bequest from this recognized curator, artist, and writer. He bequeathed his art collection to the Whatcom Museum, the Henry Art Gallery, and the Nordic Heritage Museum, with the Whatcom Museum receiving its majority: 189 works by such noteworthy regional artists as Helmi Juvonen, Jay Steensma, John Franklin Koenig, and Phillip McCracken, among others."

Wehr's works were shown at University of Washington's Henry Gallery in 1961 and 1962. He had solo exhibitions at Seattle's Otto Seligman Gallery in 1967, at Gallery Rosenau in Bern, Switzerland in 1977, and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria from November 1980 to January 1981. Wehr also had gallery shows in Munich, Germany, New York City, and San Francisco. The Cheney Cowles Museum in Spokane, Washington showed Wehr's work along with Joseph Goldberg's in 1991. The Seattle Art Museum included works of his in a 2002 exhibition called "Smashing the Forms" which focused on artists associated with Mark Tobey. In 2009, after his death, his work was included in Landscape Visions, a group show at The Evergreen State College. Works by Wehr are in a 2016 group show called "Glimpses of the Northwest" at Olympia's Art In Ecology venue.


Wehr met the future chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Kirk Johnson, when Johnson was in his early teens. As Wehr had never learned to drive, when Johnson got his driver's license, Wehr and Johnson took a week-long trip through Eastern Washington. It was on this trip that Wehr and Johnson first visited Republic, Washington to find fossils.[5]

In the 1970s he started to focus on paleobotany, guided by his correspondence with noted paleobotanists Charles Miller and Chester Arnold. He continued his love of petrified wood through correspondence with George Beck of Central Washington University. The 1977 visit to Republic led to the realization of the richness of the Republic Flora. Until his work in the 1970s the fossils of Republic were regarded as little more than a minor flora.[3] In the early 1980s working with Republic councilman Bert Chadwick, Wehr helped with the initial setup and organization of the Stonerose Interpretive Center.[2][3]

In 1976 Wehr was appointed as an affiliate curator of paleobotany at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. Wehr maintained this position for the rest of his life. Through his contacts and work both in Republic and the Burke Museum he authored a series of papers on the fossils found at Republic. A group of ten papers published in the now defunct publication Washington Geology were aimed at a general audience. He also coauthored several technical scientific papers with paleobotanical colleagues. Wehr was recognized for his work with fossils in 2003 when he was awarded the Paleontological Society' s Harrell L. Strimple Award, awarded each year to an amateur who has contributed to paleontology. The reception hosted by Wehr at the Burke Museum afterwards was attended by 200 of his friends and acquaintances. A number of extinct plants and insects were named in honor of Wehr including Osmunda wehrii, Wessiea yakimaensis, Pseudolarix wehrii, and Cretomerobius wehri. The fossil flower, Wehrwolfea striata was named for Wehr and paleobotanist Jack Wolfe.[3] While traveling with Kirk Johnson in 1992, Wehr visited the Black Hills Institute and saw the skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus rex Sue five days before it was seized by the FBI.[5]

Five days before his 75th birthday Wehr suffered a series of heart attacks[6] and died on April 12, 2004. The planned birthday party was changed into a memorial service, attended by more than 200 people.[3]


  1. ^ Wehr W 2000 "The eighth lively art : conversations with painters, poets, musicians & the wicked witch of the west" University of Washington Press, Seattle; and Wehr W 2004 "The Accidental Collector" University of Washington Press, Seattle
  2. ^ a b c d e Archibald, S. B.; et al. (2005). "Wes Wehr dedication". Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences. 42: 115–117. doi:10.1139/E05-013. 
  3. ^ Rosenbaum, Susan B. (2007). Professing sincerity: modern lyric poetry, commercial culture, and the crisis in reading. University of Virginia Press. pp. 188–190. ISBN 978-0-8139-2610-0. 
  4. ^ a b Johnson, Kirk; Ray Troll (2007). Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5000-Mile Paleo Road Trip. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing. pp. 3, 66. ISBN 978-1-55591-451-6. 
  5. ^ Burke Museum press release accessed August 11, 2011

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