Kathy Harmon-Luber’s doe leads one on an impressionistic journey of local nature — from the nurturing of water, past Lake Fulmor, to a night sky filled with stars. Photo courtesy of Shanna Robb

Sunday, Sept. 15, will herald a unique event in town and the only time it can be seen. A herd of metallic, painted deer will be browsing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside Forest Lumber on Pine Crest Avenue.

This “Community Herd Gathering” is the only time all 22 deer sculptures will be together. Beginning that week, the Art Alliance of Idyllwild, which has organized this pubic art display, will distribute each sculpture to its personal location throughout town, according to project organizer Shanna Robb.

Robb has assigned 24 local artists the task to paint the deer. Each artist has a specific theme to portray. For example, Donna Elliot and Neil Jenkins depicted the numerous opportunities for climbing and hiking adventures on their buck.

Elliot and Jenkins only joined AAI in the past year, but found this project an excellent opportunity to get involved in the local artistic community. In their travels throughout the West, they have seen many community art projects that identify many of the small towns scattered in the region.

But painting a metallic deer sculpture is not simple, even if the animal doesn’t move. Several days and many hours were invested to complete these projects to each artist’s standard.

Kathy Harmon-Luber, the 2012 AAI artist of the year, spent several days developing her artist’s statement before applying paint to doe. “I really wanted to be part of this. It will really make the town unique. It’ll make Idyllwild a destination,” she said and devoted more than 30 hours creating her doe. This does not include the time to write a poem about her deer.

While each artist has a unique theme to illustrate, during the painting they encountered a surprise that none of the artists had foreseen. The deer’s surfaces were not flat and smooth. Instead, the sculptor created a textured surface to simulate the animals’ fur.

“It was really hard to paint,” Harmon-Luber said, while laughing. She modified her original design and was “very happy with the result,” she added.

Rich Stergulz, who has been an AAI member for years, also expected a smooth surface. “The sculptor did a wonderful, job but it was hard on my brushes” and took longer to paint than he expected. “It’s a lot of detail and I’m eyeing it now.”

Whether it was Stergulz creating native wildlife or Harmon-Luber prominently depicting Lake Fulmor’s magic or Jenkins’ intricate and representational climbers, all the artists enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to become part of this larger, community effort.

“It was so much fun,” Elliot said.

The sculpture’s size presented another hurdle for some artists. For example, Harmon-Luber, who has a small studio, did the entire project in plein air — outside.

Besides the artists, Robb recruited local sponsors to underwrite the deer’s cost.

Originally she planned for a herd of 15 deer, but the turnout from potential sponsors was so terrific she saw the herd grow 50 percent. “I think making this a grassroots effort was the wisest move,” she said. “It’s become a community effort; not just businesses, but neighbors and families talk about it.”

The herd’s composition is eight bucks and seven does all standing, five fawns grazing and two recumbent fawns.

Robb has found a dozen homes for the animals’ permanent locations. The herd will be scattered from Pine Cove to Fern Valley Corners. Most will be grazing along North Circle Drive between Cafe Aroma and The Fort.

The Idyllwild Area Historical Society will have a map of all the locations and Dore Capitani will create a special plaque commemorating the public art project. This feature will be near the gazebo in the Village Center.

Painting a three-dimensional figure was a new experience for these artists and one all of them enjoyed and sought. Despite the time, effort and affect on materials, each thought it was a wonderful experience and they’re all looking forward to their deer joining the larger herd next month.

“It’s history we’re making, so there’s a lot of pressure because of the grassroots involvement,” Robb said, smiling. “There’s lots of community support.”