Just west of Death Valley, in Independence, California, the quaint Mt. Williamson Motel has become the unlikely site of an ambitious conservation project. Perched alongside bustling Highway 395, the motel has recently been covered with arresting murals depicting the life cycle of the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep—from a bounding lamb to an adult ram.
The murals are the work of San Francisco artist Jane Kim
, 31, who, with $27,760 she raised through the fund-raising Web site Kickstarter
, $2,000 in backing from the nonprofit Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Foundation
, and the logistical support of California's Department of Fish and Game, created the pieces as part of a project called the Migrating Mural. Combining the accessibility of street art with meticulous scientific detail—a style she honed while earning a certificate in science illustration at California State University, Monterey Bay—Kim plans to paint a series of eye-catching large-scale murals in public places along the migration routes of endangered species like the North Pacific blue whale and the whooping crane. (The whale murals are projected to stretch from Baja California to Alaska; Kim has sketches for crane paintings in locations from Texas to Canada.) Her Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep murals, which she hopes to complete by October, will dot U.S. 395 from Olancha to Lee Vining—two small California towns that mark the herd's approximate southern and northern boundaries.
"When people start to recognize or know an animal in this iconic way," Kim says, "it makes them want to pay attention. Like with polar bears or sharks, people think, 'That animal needs help.'" Urgently, it turns out: The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep population, for example, has dwindled to around 400, and estimates suggest that the remaining number of North Pacific blue whales is currently in the low 3,000s.
Next on Kim's agenda: murals of endangered coho salmon, possibly stretching all the way from the Pacific Northwest to South Korea. "In mixing the technicality of science illustration with art," Kim says, "I'm hoping to bring in the audience on a visceral level—to communicate fascinating things about the natural world in a way that's engaging.
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