Drivers cruising down US 395 in California have company on their journey, although they may not know it: endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, whose mountainous migration through the Eastern Sierras roughly parallels the highway route.
The bighorn is the first subject in what artist Jane Kim hopes will eventually be a countrywide network of large public murals following the paths of migrating species to raise awareness about wildlife and conservation. With the help of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign for her "migrating mural" project, she recently completed the first in her four-painting bighorn series, on the roadside walls of the Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence, California.
Kim, a San Francisco-based artist and science illustrator, originally wanted to use abandoned buildings along the bighorn's route as her mural canvases, but the enthusiastic response she got to her project from the Mt. Williamson Motel's owner shifted her plans in a different direction.
"The name [of the motel] was so appropriate because there's also a Mt. Williamson Herd Unit," she told TreeHugger, referring to one of the three surviving natural herds of Sierra bighorn. "And after the motel agreed to get on board, it just made so much sense that I should paint on other places that get used by travelers."
Spotting Bighorn Sheep
During the inclement winter months, Kim will be raising money and making preparations to paint the remaining bighorn murals, on a jerky store and cafe in Olancha, a gun club in Bishop, and a location to be determined in Lee Vining, all easily visible from the highway.
"I only found out that bighorn existed in the Eastern Sierra while doing a fellowship in Yosemite National Park. I contacted bighorn expert John Wehausen and he invited me to go out into the field with him for two days and track the sheep," Kim told TreeHugger. "From that point on, I was really hooked -- just being able to hike the terrain they occupy and see them through spotting scopes was like getting in on a big secret. I wanted to capture that and share it with people who wouldn't have that chance to see them."
Kim hopes the finished murals will become focal points for community and educational efforts around migrating species, suggesting, for example, a charitable "bike race for the bighorns" with each mural as a race checkpoint. She also hopes to eventually offer grants for other artists to paint murals focused on specific animals and regions, perhaps beginning with a coho salmon migrating mural she's currently in talks with The Nature Conservancy about producing.
Coho Salmon Lifecycle Series
"There are four different habitats that coho salmon need to survive," Kim told TreeHugger. "It would be great to get students involved in painting the spawning ground mural with me -- their youth would reflect the young part of the salmon's lifecycle."
In the meantime, Kim plans to start the next mural in her bighorn series in April, following a fundraiser in February at the Mountain Light Gallery in Bishop that will exhibit not only art about bighorns but photos, oral histories, and artifacts related to their natural and cultural history in the Sierras.