|EPPLER RAVEN SERIES, WOOD/BRONZE, 12 FEET HIGH, AT BENSON PARK SCULPTURE GARDEN, LOVELAND, CO.|
Ravens have always been considered messengers. Some Native American myths contend it was Raven that brought the sun, moon, stars, fresh water, and fire to the world, the latter being what singed Raven’s wings black. In referring to his poem “The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe called the stately raven perched above the chamber door a “bird of ill omen.” For sculptor and painter Jim Eppler, though, ravens have proven prophetic in a good way.
A lifelong artist, Eppler has been painting and sculpting realistic renditions of Rocky Mountain wildlife for decades. But it wasn’t until the late 1990s, when he started making ravens, that his career really took off. He first noticed the birds during several trips to Wyoming with his wife, Becky. “We were photographing moose and elk. Ravens were around a lot, and we became fascinated by them,” he says. “The ravens there will practically pick your pockets.”
|JIM EPPLER WITH RAVEN A AND RAVEN B, EACH 49 INCHES LONG|
He remembers a day that he and Becky were in Yellowstone National Park and watched a raven unwrap a pouch left on a bike. “It was fascinating to watch him rummage through and unfasten these pockets and reach in and pull things out. Road map. Gloves. Things like that,” he recalls. “Ravens have been ranked as one of the top 10 smartest animals on the planet, along with apes, whales, and humans. There are only two birds on the list—parrots and ravens.”
Recently, Eppler has tried his hand at sculpting blue jays, too. “I was struck by the color,” he explains, “and hoping to do some interesting patinas to achieve that deep indigo blue with the black head. These are Steller’s jays, the kind in the Rocky Mountains.”
Although he lives in Lubbock, TX, and has for most of his life, Eppler, 58, is inspired by the Rocky Mountains in a way that maybe only a yearning soul who lives elsewhere can be. “The thing I like about where we live in west Texas is that we can be in the southern Rockies in about three and a half hours or in Texas Hill Country in about four,” he says. “We pretty much have to travel to get to someplace pretty.”
Recently, though, Eppler bought 78 acres near Lubbock that he and his partners are restoring to its native habitat, attracting birds, foxes, coyotes, deer, wild turkeys, hawks, and owls. Now there are times he likes going home as much as going away. “I’m documenting everything,” he reports, “from insects to reptiles to birds to mammals. I can get excited over the smallest little creature.” Over the course of his career he’s taken about 15,000 reference photos of wildlife, he says.
Eppler started out as a painter. Among the mentors he’s studied with are Bob Kuhn (“my favorite wildlife artist,” says Eppler), watercolorist Robert Wood (“I like a good, wet watercolor”), sculptor/painter Bill Worrell (“we’ve collaborated over the years”), Raymond Froman (“I took portrait lessons from him in the early ’70s”), watercolorist Charles Reid (“he’s the master of watercolor portraits”), and Paul Milosovich (“one of the greatest painters I’ve ever known”).
Featured in June 2008