Bears coming back?

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer February 15, 2013 10:32 pm

Pilot file art The Evergreen bears were last seen in 2010 leaving Brookings in the back of a truck. Pilot file photo
Pilot file art The Evergreen bears were last seen in 2010 leaving Brookings in the back of a truck. Pilot file photo
Evergreen Federal Bank officials hope to meet with Brookings city representatives this month to discuss the future of bears.

Those bears.

Those whimsical, themed, painted, beloved bears that graced Chetco Avenue three years ago. They were so loved, citizens posted signs on them on their departure date six weeks later, saying, “I’m hybearnating here. Leave me alone,” and “Brookings will be bruined without us.”

“I couldn’t believe the reaction when we were taking them away,” said bank marketing coordinator Melissa Vierra. “We get a lot of phone calls still; ‘When are they coming back? When are they coming back?’”

The life-size, painted sculptures, each with its own theme, have been a mainstay in Grants Pass since 2003, when now-retired Evergreen Bank President Brady Adams read an article about artists painting and displaying cows in Chicago.

“The idea was to give artists a canvas and then get out of their way,” Adams said in 2011. “Let them bring their magic.”

The 30 original bears in Grant’s Pass were auctioned off, raising $175,000 for local nonprofit organizations. Other fundraisers involving the bears has netted more than $400,000 for nonprofits over the past 10 years, Vierra said.

But their popular run in Grants Pass will come to an end in the fall of 2014, coinciding with the bank’s 80th birthday. The bank currently has 47 bears housed in its Bear Hotel, another 13 permanently installed around town and volunteers are making another 20 so there are 80 for the grand celebration.

 “At that point, we’ll be considering where some of the bears should go next,” Vierra said. “We don’t have room to keep all 80. They will need to find homes. We’d love to see them go somewhere where people would appreciate them and take care of them.”

Brookings would like to get its paws on some of them.

“We want to have a meeting to talk about the (city of Brookings’) vision,” Vierra said. Citizens of Rogue River are said to love the bears as much as their counterparts in Brookings. 

But Brookings is home to Brookings-Harbor High School’s Bruins, making the statues “a good fit,” Vierra said.

And members of the Brookings Public Art Committee were elated to learn the bears could come back to town — this time for good.

City officials here have been pondering how to get some of the bears, be it by another “visit,” purchase, or even buying the mold used to cast them. Evergreen no longer uses a mold; it’s cost prohibitive.

Instead, volunteers carve each likeness out of styrofoam and cover it in fiberglass before it is painted. Since it’s all volunteer work, Vierra has no idea how much it costs to make a bear today.

“We learned some difficult lessons,” she said. “How you make them, how you keep them from cracking in the weather. It’s an undertaking. We’d love to share them instead of seeing people try to duplicate them. It’s not easy.”

The idea excites those on the arts committee.

“It depends on what everybody wants,” said committee member Lea Ray. “We could feature them in certain things that are going on. Or they can go from each park to each event. They could be in parades – parade bears; how cool is that! I love it. They’re just adorable, and they’re perfect for us.”

Other ideas could involve using them in fundraising events or just allowing the bears to be integral pieces of public art. All that needs to be discussed, Vierra said.

“We’re really happy Brookings enjoys the bears,” she said. “That’s what’s great about Brookings. It’s a really tight community; the bears would be good there.”

The city council heard occasional mentions of the bears since they left, but it wasn’t until Kelly McClain was appointed to council and suggested – repeatedly – that the city pursue bringing the ursine beasts back to town. He believes it would be a big plus for tourism.

“Anything that makes the town look better, I’m all for,” McClain said. “It makes you remember the town — ‘Oh, Brookings! It’s the town with the bears!’ We have all these people driving through town every year, it gives them a reason to stop, to come back, to stay awhile. We get all this free traffic; all we have to do is captivate them.”

“This is wonderful; just wonderful,” exclaimed committee member Janet Richey. “We could adopt them and make them our own. We’re going to have too much fun with this, I can tell. I am so excited. This is just what we need.”