Counting rams

Nevada artists have their way with a herd of bighorn sheep to kick off July’s Artown festivities

Carson City native Loren Statley’s sheep, Preservation, show images of historic Carson.

Carson City native Loren Statley’s sheep, Preservation, show images of historic Carson.

Photo By David Robert

Artown’s Counting Sheep exhibit will kick off at 4:30 p.m. July 2 at Powning Park. A party will be held at Stremmel Gallery, 1400 S. Virginia St., at 5:30 p.m. and another celebration will be held in Wingfield Park at 7:30 p.m.

Sure, it’s been done before. All over the country, in fact. Chicago had cows. St. Louis and Seattle had pigs. Salt Lake City had bison. Omaha had deer. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had life-size “American Gothic” figures based on the Grant Wood painting.

When Artown Executive Director Karen Craig first started getting nudges from various city leaders and business people to do our own version of an artsy animal, she resisted.

“The initial kernels have been coming in for the last couple years,” she says. “The reaction has been, ‘No way. Reno is going to do its own thing.’ “

But animal envy was strong. People kept asking when Reno was going to get its own herd of cows, wolves or deer to display around town.

“What I didn’t want is a zillion goofy animals,” Craig says. “I kept picturing cows in tutus and cows in suits with briefcases.”

But the idea began to grow on Craig—if it were done right. She met with Artown sponsors and discussed what kind of animal might work for Reno.

“We asked, ‘What is our animal? Is it the wild mustang? Is it the … ?’ And all of us came up with the same answer at the same time. [The bighorn sheep] is our state animal. They’re so substantial and [yet] so whimsical.”

With that, the Counting Sheep event started to fall into place. With the help of Turkey Stremmel of Stremmel Gallery, Artown put together a four-person committee to select 25 Nevada artists for the project.

Jim Zlokovich takes his ram, Sunny, by the horns.

Photo By David Robert

“We wanted to keep that part quality,” Craig says. “We were so determined not to have cows in tutus. [The committee’s] charge was to look for a range of men and women [with] a range of interests. The committee was very committed to having a lot of integrity in the process.”

Each artist was given a life-size fiberglass sculpture of a bighorn sheep, created by sculptor Brad Rude of the Walla Walla foundry in Washington. The group of artists—which included painters, sculptors, photographers and conceptual artists—were given free reign with the sheep, provided that they somehow incorporated Nevada themes into the project.

“We wanted Nevada artists using Nevada as a theme,” Craig says. “And we wanted to involve students.”

Students are involved in more ways than one. Students from Reed and McQueen high schools were given sheep. Teens from the Boys and Girls Club of the Truckee Meadows interviewed the artists and wrote pieces for Artown’s official Counting Sheep booklet.

Of course, sheep aren’t cheap—the life-size sheep each cost $1,300 to sculpt, transport from Washington and to provide payment and supplies for the artists. Sponsors were needed. Artown set up sponsorships so that organizations could participate at the $5,000 or $10,000 level. Approximately one-third of the funds from the $5,000 sponsors went to the artist the sponsor was paired with, one-third went to Artown, and the remaining third benefited a local charitable organization of the sponsor’s choosing; the funding directed toward Artown and the individual artists stayed the same with the $10,000 sheep, but the charitable organizations chosen by $10,000 sponsors doubled.

The $5,000 sponsors were matched with an artist and a location for the sheep—for instance, photographer Dean Burton’s sheep is sponsored by Bank of America and will be placed at Century Riverside; proceeds will benefit the Nevada Women’s Fund. The $10,000 sponsors got to select from among the 25 artists and choose the location of their sheep.

Craig says that she wanted to keep the complexities of funding separate from the artwork as much as possible. Sponsors, for instance, could review the artists’ designs for the sheep but couldn’t dictate content.

“Other cities built giant auction machines or created special events to move the animals,” Craig says. “But this is more about [impact on the community]. … This wasn’t meant to be an advertising vehicle. It was meant to be about art.”

Reluctant at first, Craig is now thrilled about the whole thing.

Tim Guthrie’s"Dirty Harry Downwinder” reveals a blast from Nevada’s nuclear past.

Photo By David Robert

“There were these magical people who kept saying, ‘Do this.’ And they just lifted this up and made it sing.”

The RN&R talked to five of the 25 artists—sadly, there was not room and time enough for all—about how they turned a naked life-size sculpture of a bighorn sheep into a work of distinctly Nevadan art in less than two months.

Artist: Tim Guthrie

Sheep name: Dirty Harry Downwinder

Sponsor: Western Nevada Community College

Benefits: WNCC

Site: Sierra Arts Foundation
When lit from the inside, “Dirty Harry Downwinder” gives off an eerie atomic glow. His eyes have an infrared gleam. The lenses on his body shine. The mushroom cloud exploding off his back, beautiful as a chandelier, reminds us of the improbable and fragile nature of existence.

Dirty Harry has many stories to tell. Ostensibly, he’s just a ram with a few green-clad soldiers, some billowy white smoke and Miss Atomic U.S.A. on his belly. A giant fiberglass sculpture rises from his back. But the small shiny lenses that adorn Harry chronicle Nevada’s history as the nation’s chemistry set, from photos of a 15-kiloton nuclear shell named Grable, fired in 1953, to Priscilla, a 37-kiloton balloon shot fired from a cannon in 1957, to the ram’s namesake, the horrific Dirty Harry, a bomb test linked to high levels of cancer among children in nearby southwestern Utah. The lenses show scientific information, such as seismology graphs that chart the earthquake-like effects of underground bombs—bombs that can make the earth tremble on the opposite side of the globe. They also include present-day photos from the Nevada Test Site. In one of the most radioactive places on Earth, signs remind drivers to “Buckle Up.”

“False Idol,” by Zoltan Janvary

Photo By David Robert

One lens shows a quotation from Albert Einstein, the man who helped to make atomic energy possible: “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Artist Tim Guthrie, a professor at Western Nevada Community College in Carson City and one of the 25 Counting Sheep artists, is obsessed. He’ll be the first to admit it.

“The way the government lied—and certainly in relation to Yucca Mountain,” Guthrie says with a mixture of incredulity and frustration. “Oh my god.”

Guthrie—who was raised in Nebraska, lived in various Western regions and moved to Fallon five years ago—says that he first became artistically intrigued with Nevada’s nuclear heritage when the Fallon leukemia cases surfaced. After Sept. 11, that artistic interest heightened. A painter and sculptor who creates “interactive biographical” works in which viewers can engage a piece and thereby learn more about the sculptural subject, Guthrie had never explored test site themes until the Counting Sheep project came along. He conducted extensive research, did careful planning and came up with Dirty Harry Downwinder.

“The sheep is similar to my sculpture, because the more time you spend looking at the sheep, the better understanding you have of the tests and how they affected people.”

Guthrie adds, however, that his intention isn’t to get folks riled up or to force-feed them anti-nuke propaganda. His sheep is a beautiful, informational piece of art loaded with obscure tidbits that may puzzle viewers—and perhaps prompt them to do more research on the subject themselves. The painting of an explosion rendered on the sheep’s left side, for example, includes the occasional flying pig. It’s not a coy reference to the impossibility—or possibility—of nuclear disaster, but a depiction of a nuclear test policy of exposing pigs to the fallout, since their skin resembles that of humans. Guthrie notes that, of course, many animals were killed.

“It’s just surreal,” he says.

Artist: Zoltan Janvary

Sheep name: False Idol

Phyllis Shafer’s “Nevada Lambscape”

Photo By David Robert

Sponsor: International Game Technology

Benefits: Nevada Women’s Fund

Site: Center Street Bridge
In the eyes of Zoltan Janvary, ancient myth is still very much alive. Greek, Roman and Hebrew tales of love, betrayal and faith are close

kin to our own stories.

Take, for example, the story of the golden calf, an idol that the discontented children of Israel made on their long journey out of Egypt. Stranded in the desert, with their leader Moses up on a mountain talking to God, the people of Israel melted their jewelry into a golden calf.

Since God didn’t seem to be listening to their woes, they worshipped the calf instead.

Janvary, a Hungarian artist with a luxuriant handlebar mustache and muscular, rounded shoulders, knew just what to do when he got his sheep.

“Gamblers are praying to be lucky, to be rich men, and I realized … this is my feeling about casinos. [Gamblers] are trying to be rich and lucky, even if they lose more.”

With its shiny, gold-leaf head and hooves and flashy playing card images, Janvary’s sheep is so beautiful and glamorous you might expect it to stand at the entrance to Las Vegas’ Bellagio. But the animal is intended to be a warning to diehard gamblers, not a celebration of gaming culture.

Martin Holmes’ “Lupe”

Photo By David Robert

“I’m not a prophet to stand in front of casinos and say, ‘No, you’re messing up your life.’ No, I have messed up my life in many ways. [The sheep] is a little warning. This is not a stop sign; it just [captures] my feeling, the sadness when I hear someone has lost their money.”

Janvary is less a prophet than a dreamer, someone who uses the computer as a sketchpad to create smoky, windswept images of mythological figures and stories and then paints the surrealist scenes onto his canvas.

“They’re kind of like dreams,” he says of the images.

Janvary teaches at the University of Nevada, Reno, and at Truckee Meadows Community College. He also works with disadvantaged teens in youth art programs, teaching students—graffiti taggers included—to have an appreciation for measured, painstaking artwork. He is a fan of Renaissance styles and traditional techniques. He dislikes “shock” art.

“We crazily want to jump into the stars,” he says. “But we don’t focus down here on Earth. … I still believe art is an expression of love, of beauty.”

And of the dangerous places our desires can take us.

Artist: Phyllis Shafer

Sheep name: Nevada Lambscape

Sponsor: City of Reno

David Naylor’s “Caterpillars”

By David Robert

Benefits: Parks and Cultural Arts Foundation

Site: McKinley Park Arts and Culture Center
Landscape painter Phyllis Shafer, an instructor and gallery director at Lake Tahoe Community College, believes that the body of an animal is intimately connected to the geography of its region, to the contours of the land. Although bighorn sheep are linked to our high-desert terrain simply because they are native to Nevada, for Shafer there is also a more corporeal tie.

“I didn’t just plop my image down, regardless of shape,” she says. “As a painter, it was an interesting challenge to merge a three-dimensional object with a two-dimensional design. I was interested in the bone structure of the landscape being like the bone structure of the sheep. I see this correlation between living creatures and the land. I made the two work together.”

The sheep’s legs are adorned with sage, so it looks as though it is standing in the greenery. The hills of its middle disappear into a vanishing point, and the vast blue sky sweeps over its back. The sheep’s rounded belly plays host to a valley, with voluptuous golden hills curving upward toward the buttocks and chest.

“I kind of bent and tilted the landscape, so it has a kind of undulating [quality],” Shafer says. “I did this big, sweeping valley on his belly … a giant vista of open Nevada space.”

Artist: Loren Staley

Sheep name: Preservation

Sponsor: Jones Vargas

Benefits: Reno Film Festival

Joan Arrizabalaga’s “Big Horn Bet”

Photo By David Robert

Site: The Capitol, Carson City
The bulwarks won’t last forever. Even the strongest of armor, even shields of steel, will one day disappear. And once the armor goes, says artist Loren Staley, Nevada’s state animal will go, too.

“We’re pushing them out to make room for humans.”

A tenuous protective barrier between human and animal still exists, Stately says, but that barrier is fading.

Staley, a slender, dark-haired guy with a careful, quiet manner of speech, is a conceptual artist of sorts—his last show, Refrained Containment, explored the concept of areas that are at once restrictive and open. It’s a concept that Staley revisited for his bighorn sheep project.

To portray the possible extinction of the bighorn sheep, Stately covered his sheep with 4-inch slats of steel. He coated the steel with ferric nitrate and took a propane torch to the metal to accelerate the rusting process—to signal the protective barrier’s inevitable end.

“I like that the steel was in a transition, that it’s not perfect. It’s just going to keep rusting away and eventually go back into the landscape.”

Staley also used steel slats as a nod to structures of old.

“You see a lot of older buildings in Nevada [for which] they used tin cans for shingles,” he says. “So I wanted that connection.”

The sheep has another kind of weighty garment: a concrete box hugging its mid-section, with photocopied photographic images of historic Carson City transferred onto the concrete with clear-cut acrylic. Staley says that his use of the two substances points toward the dichotomous role that the sheep’s “armor” plays. The sheep is in one sense protected and in another sense constrained.

Darcie Park “Rodeo Ram”

Photo By David Robert

“The concrete is like a weight holding [the sheep] down … more of a hindrance,” he says. “The sheep are meant to jump from rock to rock.”

Staley, who graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1999 with a fine arts degree, grew up in Carson City, so the images of Nevada’s State Capitol were evocative personally as well as politically. Staley says that he doesn’t see a direct correlation between his work and his native Nevadan heritage but adds that perhaps his fascination with space has something to do with growing up in the vastness of the desert.

A desert with enough room, one would hope, to keep an endangered species protected and alive.

Artist: Jim Zlokovich

Sheep name: Sunny

Sponsor: Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority

Benefits: Riverwalk Merchants Association

Site: Reno-Sparks Convention Center
Jim Zlokovich’s sheep, Sunny, is one of the simpler of the bunch. No alterations were made to the ram’s original form; nothing out of the ordinary protrudes or recedes; no intricate brushwork decorates its extremities. There is something pure about Sunny, something raw and spiritual in its glowing belly and rich, sunburned shades of red and orange.

The images on Zlokovich’s sheep don’t compete for attention. The sheep is darkest on the bottom, lightest on top. Its dark-brown legs look as though they’ve been dipped in chocolate—or the night. Its middle has all the beauty of a desert sky at nightfall, with slivers of white streaked like veins across the horizon. Its head and horns, pale blue with wispy clouds, seem to be resisting dusk. A moon peaks out of the back of Sunny’s head.

Nuke Osborn “Sparks Legacy”

Photo By David Robert

"[The sheep] needed a little hook,” Zlokovich says of the moon. “Like a song.”

But all are there to bring glory to the huge white ball of fire on Sunny’s rounded abdomen.

“I’m a dark kinda guy,” Zlokovich says, laughing. “I’ve got to play into the light.”

Zlokovich is a wiry, bespectacled fellow with Manhattan energy (he’s a former New Yorker) and Southern friendliness. He always seems to be planning or organizing something. He just slows down long enough to kick back for a beer with his artist friends. But when it comes to Sunny, Zlokovich can’t emphasize the sheep’s numinous side enough. For him, the material and the ethereal are inextricably tied, and the two have no better meeting ground than art.

“It’s a spiritual endeavor for all of us to face life,” he says. “Just knowing how we take things for granted and how we develop our physical life by making a material object. … We’re in the flesh; we’re material; we’re organic. But it goes beyond that. There’s a fight in us [between spirit and flesh]. We see a sunset, or we fall in love … “

Other artists:

Kathleen Akers · Reno City Hall

Joan Arrizabalaga · Harrah’s Plaza

Reed & McQueen High School student team (Patrick Barnett, Mathew Walsh, Jeff Rogers) · Reno-Tahoe International Airport

Michael Sarich “Ram Trout”

Photo By David Robert

Dean Burton · Century Riverside

d3ms (J. Damron, Joseph DeLappe, Russell Dudley, Laurie Macfee, Tamara Scronce)

· National Automobile Museum

Tom Gilbertson · West Street Plaza

Michael Greenspan · Pioneer Plaza

Martin Holmes · Wingfield Park

Meghan Lyons · Reno City Hall

Sharon Maczko · Bartley Ranch

David Naylor · Esoteric Coffeehouse

Sharon Maczko “Weathered Wood Bighorn”

Photo By David Robert

Nick Osburn · John Ascuaga’s Nugget

James Pink · Club Cal-Neva

Darcie Park · Washoe County Court House

Ben Parks · Washoe County Historic Court House

Fred Reid · Trinity Episcopal Church

Brad Rude · Powning Park

Michael Sarich · Lear Theater

Mick Sheldon · Siena Hotel Spa Casino

Ray Valdez · West Street Plaza

Larry Williamson · Redfield Promenade