Iconic, historic paintings come to Salem, Mo. in celebration of Smokey Bear’s 80th birthday

SALEM, Mo. — Nineteen art reproductions of paintings by Rudolph (Rudy) Wendelin, courtesy of Mark Twain National Forest, will be displayed this summer at the Ozark Natural and Cultural Resource Center (the Center) in Salem.


The Wendelin exhibit will showcase the historic artist’s iconic Smokey Bear campaign imagery that he created during his decades of service to the U.S. Forest Service, starting in the 1930s. The exhibit will be on public display at the Center from June 17 through July 12, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


On loan from the USDA National Agricultural Library, these replica paintings were completed from 1977 through 1995 and remain the most famous depictions of Smokey Bear. Painter Rudy Wendelin worked for the Forest Service as an illustrator beginning in 1933 and was the mastermind behind Smokey’s human-like appearance in his signature ranger hat and blue jeans. Thanks to Wendelin’s art, Smokey’s message “Only YOU can prevent wildfires” has prevailed through the generations.(Originally Smokey’s message said, “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” It was changed to adjust to modern terminology.)


Jordan Mays, Community Engagement Specialist for Mark Twain National Forest helped arrange this special event and hopes it will spread awareness of Smokey Bear and his important message of caring for forests through wildfire prevention.


Mays commented, “I am excited for this incredible opportunity to share these paintings with the public and to host an exhibit with our friends at the Ozark Natural and Cultural Resource Center.”



Forest Service staff, art presentations, educational content, commemorative memorabilia, and special appearances by Smokey Bear will occur at times during the scheduled showing.


“Bring the whole family to see these historic paintings, and you might even get to see Smokey Bear in person!” added Mays.


The Center is located at 202 S Main St, Salem, MO 65560.


Updates about special appearances, like when Smokey Bear will be in attendance, will be shared on the Mark Twain National Forest’s Facebook page.


If you have any questions about the exhibit, contact Jordan Mays at (573) 210-5393 or the Forest’s office in Salem at (573) 729-6656.


A sneak peek of some of the famous Wendelin images can be found online in the National Agriculture Library.