Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Sep 04th
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

 

You Are What You Post

Online personality algorithms put astrological profiles to shame, but UCSC psychologists are raising questions about sharing personal data

 

Venus Direct, Mercury Retro Soon, Honoring Our Labors

As Burning Man (nine days, Aug. 30-Sept. 7 in the sign of Virgo) burns in the hot white desert sands, a petal of the rose created by retrograde Venus and the twelve-petaled Sun in Virgo’s petals unfold. All of us are on the burning ground (Leo) in the womb (cave of the heart) of the mother (Virgo), gestating for humanity once again (each year) a new state of consciousness. Both Virgo and Cancer, feminine (receptive energies) signs, are from our last solar system (Pleiades). When humanity first appeared on Earth we were nurtured by the mother, a matriarchy of energies (on islands in the Pacific). Eve, Isis and Mary are part of the lineages of our ancient Mother. Overseen by the Pleiades, the Earth (matter, mater, the mother) in that last solar system was imbued with intelligence (Ray 3). As we move toward autumn, another mother, Ceres realizes she has mere weeks left with her beloved daughter, Persephone. Persimmon and pomegranate trees prepare for autumn, their colors signs of hope as the light each day continues to dim. Sunday, Venus in Leo turns stationary direct, yet continues in her shadow until Oct. 9 (when retrograde Mercury turns direct). Slowly our newly assessed values emerge from the Venus retrograde. We thought in Venus retro how to use our resources more effectively. Mercury retrogrades Sept. 17. Monday is Labor Day. Let us honor the labor of everyone, all life a “labor.” Let us honor Labor Day and all those who have “served” (labored for) us this past year. We honor their labors. We honor the labor of our parents, those who have loved us. We honor our own labors, too. We are all in service, we are all laboring. We are all valuable.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 4

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

 

Sushi Garden

Local sushi empire expands to Scotts Valley

 

Do you overshare online?

I don’t think so. I just post things about my life, like successful things. Sometimes I just like sharing different news that I find interesting, or favorite artists, clothes, music. I like to post photos. Natalia Delgado, Santa Cruz, Server

 

McIntyre Vineyards

I recently met up with three friends for dinner at Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort. We chose to eat outside so we could watch the sun set over the ocean, but the Aptos fog rolled in and swallowed it up.

 

Sustainable Supper

The Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Supper series supports its award-winning programs