The life-size figures of two sheep have been rustled from the Nativity display at the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion.
The animals were among 31 figures depicting the birth of Jesus that had been painstakingly restored by volunteers over the past year.
Paul Schmidt, chairman of the Balboa Park Christmas Committee, and the restoration artist discovered the theft on Thursday. One sheep was missing from the manger scene and another from the shepherd scene.
“Who is the Grinch who stole those sheep?” Schmidt asked. “We don’t know whether someone did it as a prank or to put them in their nativity at home.”
The full-size papier mache Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, shepherds, angels and others who form the narrative of the Christmas story were created more than 70 years ago by Los Angeles sculptor Rudolph Vargas.
They have been displayed at the park through Christmas seasons since 1953, arranged in eight dioramas with painted canvas backdrops. Donations cover rent to the city for space at the park, insurance and repair costs.
Over the decades, many of the animal and human figures became tattered, faded or broken. Santee artist Barbara Jacobson offered to fix them for free.
The task of reinforcing the statues with fiberglass, putty and new coats of paint took 10 months. Schmidt estimated the value of the project at $50,000.
Schmidt said that when he and Jacobson were looking over the dioramas, he noticed the sheep missing from its position next to a cow in the stable where baby Jesus lay in a manger.
“We are so unhappy about this, we can hardly see straight,” Jacobson said Friday. “It’s very sad.”
She said each animal weighs 15 or 20 pounds.
“I’m hoping some mother in San Diego is wondering where these crazy lamb statues in her frontyard came from,” Jacobson said. “Or, they find them in the park.”
Repard writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune