Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Nov 22nd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Sculpting Controversy

news-1-1What will become of the Bear Spirit statue?

For 27 years, people outside of the Natural History Museum, near Seabright Beach, have taken notice of a nearly 10-foot-high statue of a nude man merged with a bear as they stroll through Tyrrell Park.

The fate of the statue is up in the air following a vote by the Santa Cruz City Art Commission to stop paying to repair the sculpture, the genitals of which have been repeatedly vandalized over the years.

Local artist Daniel Stolpe created the statue, named Bear Spirit, to illustrate a Northwest Native American ritual of taking on the spirit of animals in their environment. It has been perched on a three-foot high platform outside the museum since 1986, and also appears on the Smithsonian’s web collection of public art pieces.

“The idea of the Bear Spirit was a result of my involvement with the Northwest Coast Indians called the Swinomish tribe,” he says. “Through their initiation rituals I got the idea of man taking on the spirit of a bear.”

He produced a small model of the statue with him on an art tour in the mid ’80s and spoke to art curators in Tulsa, Okla. and Phoenix, Ariz. about housing the piece in their museums. However, upon returning home he decided the Natural History Museum was a perfect fit.

“The museum had some Ohlone baskets and other pieces of California history in the exhibits,” says Stolpe. “So I talked to Charles Prentice, who was the curator there, and he thought it was a good idea.”

The museum’s board of directors at that time voted three for and three against taking the sculpture. Prentice broke the tie, allowing Bear Spirit to be placed in the park outside the museum.

Today, however, the museum is a private nonprofit and the surrounding land is the property of the city’s Parks Department. Museum staff no longer has authority over what is or isn’t displayed there, according to museum volunteer coordinator Daniel Howell.

That responsibility lies solely in the hands of the city arts commission, which is led by local artist and City Arts Program Manager Crystal Birns.

“Every piece of artwork in the city has a lifespan because of the length of time the materials can last outside,” Birns says. She says that the city hired the group ARG Conservation in November 2012 to make an assessment of the public art collection and Bear Spirit, “which is made of fiberglass was flagged.”

She says that this prompted a vote in January to remove the piece rather than continue to fund future repairs to the current materials, or cast the piece in bronze. However, according to Stolpe, notifying him didn’t come up as a part of the process. He knew nothing about the plan until local activist Brent Adams brought the commission’s vote to his attention in early February.

news1-2Since then, Stolpe and the commission have been going over options for the statue, whose removal has not yet been scheduled. Possibilities include placing the piece in storage or moving it to the Museum of Art & History (MAH) on Cooper Street.

Stolpe doesn’t like either of these ideas.

“The [MAH] has much more modern sculptures,” he says. “I want to speak with a lawyer before making any decision to move it to make sure its spot right now would still be available.”

Adams believes that complaints about the nudity in the sculpture are the real reason for the planned removal. He posted a video on Youtube explaining the history of Bear Spirit and the drama of the serially embattled genitalia.

In the short documentary, Stolpe keeps a sense of humor about having to make repairs so often, but admits there were warning signs of trouble.

“I’m willing to keep repairing it,” he says. “[Damage is] kind of an indication of public sculpture. The Sphinx got its nose shot off. But the last time the [art commission] said they didn’t want to pay any more money on it, [they said] ‘It’s a public nuisance.’”

Neighbors have complained about the nudity to museum staff, or at least the “drama around the penis,” including the periodic vandalism, says Howell. However, Birns tells Good Times that the statue’s nudity played no role in the commission’s decision to remove it, and that the only reason they have for displacing the statue is because of durability issues.

The sculpture currently consists of a paper machete core covered in layers of plaster and fiberglass. Powdered bronze on the outer layer gives the piece its greenish tones and protects the fiberglass from degrading in the sun.

Stolpe says the original intent was always to have the piece cast in bronze but the original funding was not available and he did not feel an urgency to do that once he sprinkled on bronze powder that protected the fiberglass from degrading.

In response to the new controversy, he obtained an estimate for finally having this done. He says it will cost $38,000 and is looking for ways to raise the funds himself, including holding fundraisers (information about which will be posted to his website, nativeimagesgallery.com). As of this writing, he had already raised $1,000. However, he says his first step is to assure that its current home will be still be available once the statue has had its alterations. 

Birns would not comment on whether the spot would still be available if and when Bear Spirit has been set in bronze.

Video by Brent Adams”

Comments (3)Add Comment
Maybe consider starting a kickStarter page
written by garimo, February 28, 2013
and post a page link to it in each of these kinds of write ups and raise the needed funds for the bronze.
...
written by Sonja Chesley, February 27, 2013
I have visited Santa Cruz several times over the years and seen this amazing Bear Spirit sculpture in the garden outside the Natural History Museum. It is unlike anything I have seen in my travels to several museums in many countries. It is a treasure and should remain in the garden.
penis -gate !
written by Pablo, February 27, 2013
this is the coolest piece of public art in the county! private funding ? public fundraising , art commission grants , get that thing bronzed!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Pop Life

The pop-up dining trend is freeing culinary imaginations and creating a guerilla version of event dining around Santa Cruz

 

Over Hills and Plains, Riding a White Horse, Bow and Arrows in Hand

Saturday, early morning, the sun enters and radiates the light of Sagittarius. Three hours later, the Sagittarius new moon (0.07 degrees) occurs. “Let food be sought,” is the personality-building keynote. “Food” means experiences; all kinds, levels and types. It also means real food. Sag’s secret is their love of food. Many, if not musicians, are chefs. Some are both. The energies shift from Scorpio’s deep and transformative waters to the “hills and plains of Sagittarius.” Sag is the rider on a white horse, eyes focused on the mountain peaks of Capricorn (Initiation) ahead. Like Scorpio, Sagittarius is also the “disciple.” Adventure, luck, optimism, joy and the beginnings of gratitude are the hallmarks of Sagittarius. Sag is also one of the signs of silence. The battle lines were drawn in Libra and we were asked to choose where we stood. The Nine Tests were given in Scorpio and we emerged “warriors triumphant.” Now in Sag, we are to be the One-Pointed Disciple, riding over the plains on a white horse, bow and arrows in hand, eyes focused on the Path of Return ahead. Sagittarians are one-pointed (symbol of the arrow). Sag asks, “What is my life’s purpose?” This is their quest, from valleys, plains, meadows and hills, eyes aimed always at the mountaintop. Sag emerges from Scorpio’s deep waters, conflict and tests into the open air. Sag’s quest is humanity’s quest. Sag’s quest, however, is always accompanied by music and good food.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of November 21

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Pie Fidelity

A little Thanksgiving help, plus sip and shop locally at the Art, Wine and Gift Bazaar

 

What should be on everyone’s bucket list?

Hang gliding, because you're free as a bird. Jenni, Santa Cruz, Student/Administrative Assistant

 

Soquel Vineyards

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so it’s time to be thinking about the wine you’re going to serve with that special dinner, be it turkey, ham, a roast, or something vegetarian or vegan.

 

The Kitchen

Chef Santos Majano talks beer-friendly food at Discretion Brewery