Connecting with Bears

Connecting with Bears


Ted - Nicola Prinsen - Adele Campbell Gallery

The bear chooses us. Indigenous peoples have always known this. Many indigenous nations organize themselves under houses such as bear, salmon or deer. Each family is born into an animal with the duty to protect. In this way, all animals are cared for. So, for those not falling within this family system, an animal, like the bear, instead comes looking for us.

Sometimes here in Whistler, this may mean a chance encounter in the woods or along the Valley Trail, in the mountains or even in the Village — especially in the Village, where the different faces of bears stare out from art gallery windows. These odes to Ursidae come in acrylic and oil portrait, 14-carat gold pendants of black bear mother and cub and even an 8,000-pound Alaskan marble polar bear. The bear has found these artists, and so they, in turn, have taken it upon themselves to celebrate, protect and honour the animal in their own ways.

North Star – Jon Fathom – Fathom Stone Art Gallery

Artist and gallery owner Jon Fathom grew up in Alaska where 100 days of the year were spent fishing. From his boat, Jon watched bears roam the beaches: grizzlies, black bears, and even the rare silver-blue glacier bear.

“When I encountered a bear, it was the highlight of the day, whether I was hiking or even seeing one along the roadside,” says Fathom, who now splits time between Alaska and Whistler where he opened his gallery, Fathom Stone Art Gallery at the Westin Resort.

Fathom collaborates with other celebrated carvers to showcase the finest stone to create bear-inspired jewelry and sculpture. He also hosts daily stone carving classes for kids and adults. Fathom’s newest work is a life-size polar bear collection. The largest of the three, a nine-foot, 8,000-pound polar bear entitled “North Star,” made from Alaskan marble and B.C. jade, is currently showing in the Four Seasons Resort Whistler lobby. Fathom gives as much as he creates, donating various works or proceeds to organizations acting on the behalf of bears. His art gives bears a voice, and one voice growling louder in Whistler is the grizzly bear.

Run – Andy Anissimoff – ArtinBC.com

For Sea to Sky artist Andy Anissimoff, the grizzly found him through the photography of Whistler’s Dan Carr. The image of the wild and woolly brown bear charging through a riverbed was unlike anything Anissimoff had ever seen before.

“I wanted to capture the movement and power of such a massive thing,” says Anissimoff, whose full selection of original pieces and hand-detailed, limited-edition, stretched in-house, Giclée reproductions are available at his gallery/studio in Squamish, which is open to visitors on weekends or by appointment. “Trying to capture that frozen energy was challenging. Bears may be my favourite animal. The respect they command just leaves you in awe. They come in so many shapes and sizes too; they are so interesting to look at.”

Autumn Bear - Paul Garbett - Whistler Contemporary Gallery

Whistler Contemporary Gallery artist Paul Garbett lives in a forested rural area and often hikes and bikes no matter what the season. “If I’m fortunate I will witness bears doing their bear things, like swimming rivers, climbing trees or being the usual curious creatures that they are. There is no better inspiration than that for getting me motivated to paint wildlife. Bears are a favourite of mine. I think it’s their curiosity that reminds me of me,” Garbett says.

His painting “Autumn Bear” is an example of a commission for a client who returned to their cottage one spring to find a bear living under the cottage. The painting of that bear now hangs in the living room directly above the bear den. “What a wonderful way to honour that animal!” Garbett says.

Murmuration – Robert McCauley - Whistler Contemporary Gallery

Bears are often seen as majestic or stoic, but there are other sides to explore as well. At Whistler Contemporary Gallery, painter Robert McCauley’s “Murmuration” depicts two bears standing side by side, like people.

Fat Bike Bear – Jamie Summers - Adele Campbell Gallery

At the Adele Campbell Gallery, no two bears are alike. Artist Jamie Summers tries to capture the playfulness of bears in sculptures, such as with “Fat Bike Bear,” while Nicola Prinsen’s bronze work entitled “Ted” finds the humour in an otherwise weighty figure.

Prinsen has been sculpting bears for at least 15 years, in various poses — sitting, playing, even sailing away in boats. “As I get older my creative form is less exact, the form more simplified. It seems more important to me to interpret the gestures and the essence of the bears,” Prinsen says.

“I enjoy sculpting their round, smooth form, and I strive to present their humorous side. Bears in nature seem to take time out to play. We are living in a time where bears are seen more often in suburban areas; through my sculptures I would like to remind viewers that we must find a way to coexist and share territory with the nature around us,” Prinsen explains.

“There seems to be an inexplicable connection to the Whistler bear. Perhaps it’s their human-like qualities which resonate with anyone who has observed these wonderful animals,” says Charlotte Webber, Adele Campbell Gallery assistant director.

Cheakamus Lake Trail – Mark Richards – Mark Richards Gallery

Artist Mark Richards has long been fascinated by the majesty of bears. The avid outdoorsman and photographer has witnessed hundreds of black bears over the years, but he’s kept his distance, instead focusing on the landscapes where they live. Richards’ photo-stenciled piece “Cheakamus Lake Trail” depicts one of the last undisturbed old-growth forests in the Sea to Sky area. Western hemlocks, Douglas firs, red cedars and Sitka spruce are all on display with wonderful light filtering in along the lake. It’s quite common to see black bears in this area.

“With my new telephoto lens, this might be the year I capture an image of a bear that would be a worthy addition to my collection,” Richards says.

A Watchful Gaze – Sharon Smith – Mountain Galleries

But again, the bear chooses us. Painter Sharon Smith has lived among Whistler’s black bears for a quarter of a century, which is evident in her observation about how bears are a barometer for Whistler’s balance or imbalance between nature and development. The graduate of the Academy of Art College in San Francisco provides a unique perspective through her oil and acrylic portraits, granting onlookers the rare opportunity to look a bear directly in the eye.

Undercover-Bear Cub – Sharon Smith – Mountain Galleries

“It’s about when you see a bear, and the bear really sees you,” Smith says, speaking of her works entitled “A Watchful Gaze” and “Undercover – Bear Cub,” which are currently on display at Mountain Galleries at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. “What are you two thinking about each other?”

The idea behind the paintings is a beautiful one. Two thoughts are of equal importance in a shared space. The bear has found the artist, and the artwork in turn finds us, leaving us with a final question. The bear has chosen us: What will we do with this connection?

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