By Steve Hubrecht

Efforts to save bighorn sheep have taken an artistic turn, with the Vanishing Bighorns exhibit currently running at Pynelogs Cultural Centre.

The exhibit began on Friday, Feb. 24 and will run until Saturday, Mar. 19.

Those who visit Pynelogs will find art from 14 different local artists depicting bighorn sheep, one of the most iconic species to be found in the Canadian Rockies, in a variety of mediums: watercolour, acrylic, felted wool, a fabric collage, water-based oil, and sketches. One of the most dramatic pieces of art shows the same bighorn sheep on two separate canvases: in one the bighorn is very clearly outlined. In the other it appears to be dissipating in front of the viewer. It’s as though you are watching the sheep disappear. A ‘family tree’ display shown alongside the artwork contains photos of a bighorn family — the descendants of one ram and one ewe. There are 25 bighorn photos in total, but 15 of them have a big red ‘X’, indicating that the sheep pictured has been killed. 

Though diverse in form, all the artwork centres on the theme of the bighorns’ gradually diminishing numbers, and although Exhibit Organizer Meg Langley initially started Vanishing Bighorns out of concern for the bighorn herd in the Kicking Horse Canyon (by Golden), which is being decimated by traffic fatalities, she said the Radium Hot Springs bighorn herd is suffering the same fate (an issue reported frequently in the Pioneer and in national media over the past two months). Langley said she wants the Invermere showing of the exhibit (which is sponsored by East Kootenay environmental group Wildsight) to help both the Radium and the Golden herds.

“They are declining in both places and it seems to be based on the same problem: too many sheep being killed by vehicles driving too quickly,” said Langley, who is a wildlife biologist based in Golden and has studied the bighorns there. “What I’m hoping is that through the art, with this exhibit, and through the work and research we’ve done, is that some of the things we’ve learned about the bighorn herd in Golden can be translated and applied to the situation in Radium.”

And while the Radium bighorn herd has been getting the media spotlight lately, the Golden bighorn herd could well be the group in the biggest trouble, owing to its very small size: just 11 sheep. The Radium herd, in comparison, boast approximate numbers of 120 to 130, but even that is alarming, considering that it once was 250.

Wilmer-based artist Irina Kruglyakova is one of artists who contributed to Vanishing Bighorns, and met the Pioneer at Pynelogs to explain her motivation for the project on Monday, Mar. 7. “My whole life, I have felt connected to nature. Bighorns are just one piece of nature, but without each piece, there is no whole,” Kruglyakova told the Pioneer. “But the bighorns are a symbol, they are a good example, a very visible example, of how we can harm nature or how we can help nature.”

Kruglyakova has been a mountain guide and naturalist for more than 20 years, initially in Russia’s wild and grizzly bear-filled Kamatchka Peninsula and then, for the past 14 years, all over western Canada: in Waterton Lakes National Park, in Canmore, Field, Golden, Edmonton, the Yukon, northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and even a stint in Ontario (where she says there are no mountains, but where she says the leaves changing colours in the fall are glorious). 

Congratulations! You’ve found 2/2 easter eggs for our online hunt! (Mar. 10 edition). Graphic design by Emily Rawbon

When she first arrived in the Columbia Valley, two years ago, she was instantly smitten.

“I felt so comfortable here right away. I’m 61, I’ve been all over the world, in some of the most spectacular wilderness environments you can imagine. But the sense of peace here in this valley, I’ve never felt something like that before. It touches my soul,” said Kruglyakova, adding that, of course, she wants to do whatever she can to help the natural environment in this spot that has become her home.

“So when I heard about the project from Meg, right away I wanted to do it,” she says.

Kruglyakova studied graphic design at the Correspondence Popular University of Art in Vladivostok, which fostered a sense of creativity in her which she then used to teach herself how to sketch and make other art. 

“Sometimes, you can convey more feeling in art than you can in photos,” Kruglyakova told the Pioneer. “Art is a way we can communicate. And I feel I have, that we all have, a responsibility to pass on what we’ve learned, if we can. And what I want to pass on is that when we lose our connection to nature, we lose something of ourselves.”