Wuon-Gean Ho is an artist of Chinese descent, born in the UK. She created the reverse design for the first Lunar coin from The Royal Mint, struck for the Year of the 2014 Horse, and has once again drawn upon her Chinese and British heritage, blending them in her latest design celebrating the Year of the Sheep. Wuon-Gean is experienced in many disciplines including printmaking, animation and books and has work in collections including the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum. After graduating from Cambridge University with a degree in the History of Art and a professional licence as a veterinary surgeon, Wuon-Gean took up a Japanese Government Scholarship in 1998 to study woodblock printmaking in Japan.
For the Lunar Year of the Sheep design, Wuon-Gean was inspired by her veterinary experience and drew on her memories of the lambing season. She worked in shifts with hours of waiting interspersed with busy and rewarding work, seeing new lambs come into the world and watching the mother and child bond. She recalls observing sheep as part of the British landscape – in the grounds of Blenheim palace and on the hillsides of the Peak district and in the rolling Brecon Beacons – their presence woven into the fabric of British life.
For this reverse design, Wuon-Gean has artfully used symbolic elements to create a fusion of Chinese and British heritage. The sheep in her design are Swaledale sheep, named after the Yorkshire valley of Swaledale, a bold and hardy breed with physical attributes well-suited to the often harsh British climate. Intricate details highlight the sheep’s beautiful smooth curled horns, seen on both the ewes and rams of the breed, which contrast with the swirls of the sheep’s wool coat.
Wuon-Gean was keen to feature more than one sheep in her design to signify friendship and family, as sheep are herd animals, and to recall the tradition of ‘counting sheep’. Interestingly the Chinese character for sheep is pronounced ‘yang’ and Wuon-Gean had heard of the ancient Celtic method for counting sheep – Yan Tan Tethera – which sounds so similar. This method was used in many areas of Britain where shepherds would keep a record of their herds by counting in this intriguing dialect. The Chinese character for sheep completes the design, a pictograph showing the head and horns of a sheep in an ancient character that originally resembled the symbol for Aries in Western astrology.