I don’t know when my love affair with sheep began. It certainly wasn’t a childhood thing. I mean, I saw them at the county fair, but they didn’t impress me that much. I probably paid more attention to the chickens. There weren’t a lot of sheep raised in this part of Ohio, either, so I never saw them out in the fields the way I did cows and horses.
Sometime about 20 years ago, though, sheep suddenly impressed me as aesthetically beautiful, one animal or a grazing flock. It might have had something to do with fantasies of Scotland and Ireland I was entertaining at the time. I remember driving past Shakertown in Kentucky (on the way home from a clogging workshop on Lake Cumberland), looking up and seeing a smattering of sheep on a grassy slope enclosed by a stone wall. I was enchanted (and it probably didn’t hurt that I was listening to a tape of the Scottish band Silly Wizard at the time).
The following May, in 1987, I made my first trip to Ireland. My God — sheep everywhere, even grazing on small patches of grass in the middle of a town. I’m sure it wasn’t long after that that I started seriously accumulating sheep.
As I said, for me there’s this aesthetic appeal about sheep. I love the way they’re shaped, especially their heads. That’s why I like realistic sheep figurines, not cutesy lambsy things with cartoony faces. The primitive style are okay, even though they can be rather mutant-looking. (Some of these creatures I would not want to encounter behind the hedgerows on a dark night!)
As happens with collecting things, each of my sheep has a memory or story associated with it. I’ll share those now and then. In the photo above is a pottery sheep I purchased at the Workshops of David T. Smith in nearby Morrow, Ohio (if you follow the link, you can see the sheep in the photo under the “Folk Art” section). We were attending one of their summer folk art fairs about 12 years ago. I spotted this figurine on a shelf in their samples shop near the pottery wheels and kiln. I had to have this piece; it evoked fantasies of Colonial-era estates in America or old country houses in Britain. It’s easy to imagine this sheep leading a very different life a century or two ago, rather than being crafted by hand in Warren Co. in the late 20th century.
(I’m hoping to make it to The Country Living Fair at The Workshops of David T. Smith one day next weekend. If you’ve never been to the Workshops site, it’s a gorgeous place, and the fair looks really interesting.)