Kansas artist's work on exhibit at Coutts Museum April 1 through May 19
EL DORADO — A retrospective exhibit of the late M. Wayne Willis’ artwork will be on display at the Coutts Memorial Museum of Art, 110 N. Main, El Dorado, beginning April 1. A public reception will be held on April 9 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Toni Jackman, daughter of the artist, will speak about her father and his work at 7 p.m. The exhibit will be on display at the museum through May 19.

Willis' work is widely admired in the wildlife art community. He was commissioned to create the First Quail Unlimited (QU) Kansas Quail Stamp by QU and the Kansas Fish and Game Commission, now the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP). In 1985, he was commissioned by the Kansas Department of Economic Development to do the first print and stamp for the Kansas Wildlife Art Series, and his paintings have been used to illustrate numerous books and articles on wildlife and the environment. In 1992, former Kansas Governor Mike Hayden, Community Leaders in Kansas, and the Willis family created the Wayne Willis scholarship fund, now the Wayne Willis Wildlife Foundation, partially funded by the annual Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunt auction. All monies raised go to support university students enrolled in wildlife management programs. A portion of the money raised by selling the Willis family’s collection of lithographic prints also goes to the foundation.

Willis was born in eastern Kansas and spent part of his youth in Maryland and Virginia. In both environments, he spent every available moment hunting, fishing, and drawing wildlife. He ranks among the top wildlife artists in the country and is considered by many to be the premiere quail painter. For 60 years, he captured every movement of game birds on paper, canvas, and carved wood.

Willis' art training included junior college, where he won a scholarship to the Kansas City Art Institute. Study at the Art Institute was interrupted by enlistment in the Army during World War II. After the war, he continued his art training in Germany, spending almost a year studying, painting, and carving wood under the guidance of two German instructors.

Willis was active in the Wichita Chapter of Ducks Unlimited and in 1986 was presented with the prestigious Palette and Chisel Award for his generous contributions in support of Ducks Unlimited conservation programs. His donations helped DU raise more than $1 million for wildlife habitat programs in North American. He supplied hundreds of prints to DU.

In later years, Willis divided his time between his Wichita studio and his ranch near Eureka. There he raised Canada geese for KDWP's early Canada Goose Restoration Program. The ranch continues to be managed for wildlife by his daughters.

The public is invited to attend the reception on April 9 or visit the museum anytime during regular hours Monday through Saturday. The museum is free and open to the public. For more information, phone 316-321-1212.