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April 19, 2004

Noted Northwest Paleobotanist, Artist, and Author Wes Wehr Has Passed Away

Seattle X Burke Museum Affiliate Curator of Paleobotany, Wes Wehr, passed away Monday, April 12, 2004 after experiencing a series of heart attacks.

By training and profession, Wehr was a composer and musician and a recognized painter and writer. Many in the Northwest knew Wehr as a painter of miniature landscapes whose work is often included among the masterpieces of the "Northwest School." However, Wehr's contributions range far beyond his art to include authoring two books and developing the Burke Museum's world-class paleobotany collection.

Wehr was recently honored with the Harrell L. Strimple Award from the Paleontological Society in November 2003. The award honors outstanding contributions to paleontology by a person who does not derive a livelihood in that field. Wehr accepted the award before an audience of over 200 admirers, artists, writers, and musicians. Another accomplishment while serving at the Burke Museum, was the establishment of the Wes Wehr Endowment for Paleobotany, begun in 1992 to ensure continued support of paleobotanical research at the Museum.

A productive member of the Burke staff since the 1970s, Wehr's artistic eye was drawn to the beauty of agates, crystals, and petrified wood, which led to a lifelong passion and scientific quest to understand fossilized plants. In the 1980s he earned the title of affiliate curator. Retired assistant director and current Burke board member, Roxana Augusztiny remembers Wehr as, "A truly unique human being, intensely devoted to the variety of interests he developed, never allowing himself to be distracted by the mundane concerns that take others from what they love."

Among his many accomplishments while at the Burke, Wehr is credited with developing the most productive source of plant fossils in North America, located in the northeast Washington town of Republic. Dismissed by others as an unimportant site, the buried lake bed dating 50 million years old, has yielded more than 200 different fossil species over the years, due in large part to Wehr's efforts. As a respected collector, teacher, and collaborator with paleontologists nationwide, no less than six fossils now bear his name.

This May, University of Washington Press will release his latest book, The Accidental Collector: Art, Fossils, Friendships. Previous publications include The Eighth Lively Art: Conversations with Painters, Poets, Musicians, and the Wicked Witch of the West (published in 2000, University Press), and a short work on his friend Mark Tobey entitled Conversations and Profiles, in addition to numerous published articles on paleobotany. Saturday would have been Wehr's 75th birthday.

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