The scale of their cold, wind-whipped domain makes it difficult to even catch a glimpse of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, elusive super-climbers at home in California’s steepest rock worlds.
Jane Kim, 32, has found an unusual way to make these mountain acrobats with soft, rubbery feet and spiraling horns seen and admired.
Over the last year, the San Francisco artist painted five murals of bighorn sheep on the walls of businesses and a regional airport hangar along a 150-mile stretch of Highway 395 on the eastern flank of the Sierra.
They include a rendering of an 8-year-old adult ram on the Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence. A depiction of a lamb climbing down steep terrain to meet an adult ewe graces a wall at the Bishop Gun Club in Bishop.
A final addition to the series of public artworks Kim calls a "migrating mural" will be painted in late spring in Lee Vining near Mono Lake. The exact location is yet to be determined.
"I want these murals to be delightful surprises for people who spot them from the road," Kim said. "And I’m hoping they serve as reminders that we share this planet with rare creatures that find refuge in hard-to-reach places."
Devastated by disease introduced by livestock in the 19th century, the unique subspecies is recovering slowly in the Sierra’s craggy shoulders, according to state wildlife authorities.
In 1995, there were just 105 bighorn remaining in the eastern Sierra. Today, there are about 500 in the wild.
Both males and females grow horns, which are never shed. Ram and ewe horns are indistinguishable up to 3 years of age. After that, the ram horn continues to grow into a much larger, heavier curl.
Kim’s subjects are represented in vivid color portraits painted from California Department of Fish and Wildlife photos. The series was funded with donations from individuals and groups including Kickstarter, a platform for gathering money for art projects from the public.