Bear Mosaic Sculpture, Northwest Coast Design

Red Cross Bear Mosaic in progress


I got a call week before last from the American Red Cross of Northern Lower Michigan in Petoskey asking if I was still interested in participating as an artist in their 2005 fundraiser: the Great Northern Hunt for Bearable Art. It seems an anonymous donor sponsored one of the bears and specifically requested that I mosaic it. I couldn’t get anyone to spill the beans as to who this mystery benefactor is, but I’d like to thank them here for picking up the tab on my entry to this year’s outdoor art project.

The life-size fiberglass bears are based on a sculpture by Glen McCune commissioned by the Red Cross as a follow-up to their 2003 Fish-In, which featured over 50 outdoor fish sculptures and raised more than $300,000 for local Red Cross services.

Last Monday my bear was delivered. He sat out in the yard for a few days while I thought about how I wanted to approach the project. I have to admit there was a temptation to do the piece in white with a big red cross on each side… I mean, yeah, it might have been too easy, but it would have looked great. Nice contrast between the stark minimalism and graphic immediacy of the Red Cross logo with the detail and and texture of tile mosaic. And for some reason I kept picturing the piece as kind of a polar rescue bear, like a big saint Bernard. But of course, eventually I decided I’d better think of something a little more enticing…

It took a while, but I finally decided to go with a Haida design, since I’ve always kind of wanted to do some work based on northwest coast Indian art. The stylized bear design will wrap over the back of the fiberglass sculpture. I’ll do the face and feet in the same style and leave the rest white. I noticed while the bear was outside that the naturally white color of the fiberglass shows up really well against most backgrounds… as soon as the piece was dropped off I had several people a day pulling into the drive just to walk around it and check it out.

I’m going to post daily pictures of the mosaic in progress, something I’ve been meaning to do for the last few projects. Seems like it might be interesting for people to see the development over time and get a sense of both the strategy and the work involved. I’ve decided to do the bulk of the design flat and then adapt it to the form of the bear. I’ll be leaving some areas blank in order to give myself room to adjust the fit. Once the main elements of the design are affixed to the bear, I can then fill in the white space.

I’ll also be adapting various elements of the design on the fly as I put down the tile. For instance, even though I traced the image by hand from a photo, then projected it onto larger paper and drew it a second time to scale, it wasn’t until I had started the mosaic that I realized this design is, ah, “anatomically correct.” Oops. I kind of got fooled by the abstraction on the first two passes. So, will I make the bear a bit more androgynously neutral to avoid upsetting anyone? Does a bear poop in the woods? Yeah, In the pic below, I’ve already removed the tile I’d done between the bear’s feet. I’d be perfectly happy making a risqué bear for private commission, but I’m pretty sure that under the circumstances a tame bear is the better course of action.

If you’re curious how long it takes to cover such a large sculpture in tile, you can follow along with the more or less daily blog posts I posted while working on the project: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, Day eight, Day Nine + Ten, Day Eleven + Twelve, The Auction!