Playful bears outside Rossland's post office

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
March 23rd, 2013

A new sculpture of a bear playing with its cub will soon liven up the sidewalk outside the post office on Columbia Ave. as the Rossland Council for Arts and Culture (RCAC) raise the final funds necessary to put artist John McKinnon on the task.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said RCAC president Renate Fleming. “It’s been our goal to have another sculpture downtown ever since we finished the ravens [outside the library] about five years ago.” Most recently, the plan was on hold as the group waited for downtown renovations to finish.


“We’re very excited,” Fleming said. “It will be a really nice piece of art, an original concept. I think it’s going to be really great for Rossland,” she said, appreciating both the playful, intimate pose of the sculpture, to the role it will play in “engaging people in art.” “Art is an important part of our social structure. It’s important for community and our region to support local artists.”


The playful bears will be big, sitting on at least a 6-foot square base, constructed from steel, and finished in a black mat paint. The base will be low, putting the bears close to the ground so, Fleming said, it looks more natural. 


“We really want it to integrate naturally with the flow of downtown,” she said, describing it as a sculpture that blends in rather than standing out like Olaus Jeldness at the other end of Columbia.


McKinnon’s design was one of 13 submitted to the RCAC when the call went out last year. A confidential jury of five people—a local business owner, a high school student, a local artist, an RCAC member, and a member of the city’s Design Review Panel—debated the merits of the various submissions. They were looking for a design that celebrates the natural environment, history, and heritage of Rossland, and one preferably created by an artist from the Columbia Basin.


“The bear was our original idea when we started talking about this years ago,” Fleming said. “We had a lot of people saying, why a bear? Everyone has a bear, like Revelstoke, and Creston. Four submissions were really going head-to-head [in the jury’s decision], but in the end it seems a bear is something our community identifies with and people love; we want the presence of the bear.”


Fleming continued, “It’s a very cute design with two bears playing, mother or father bear and their cub. It’s definitely charming, and we are very happy this one came out on top. It’s very approachable and fascinating for all ages and audiences.” She said she hopes it contributes “vibrancy” to the renovated downtown and acts to “create dialogue.”


John McKinnon is a Nelson-based artist who Fleming describes as very talented and very prolific, with a lot of his sculptures displayed in the area from Nelson to Cranbrook, and also in Ontario. He creates and teaches sculpture in mixed media, stone, welded steel, cement, and even ice.


“We’re very pleased to be working with John,” Fleming said. “He’s a very nice guy and a great Kootenay artist.” 


Council briefly discussed McKinnon’s sketches that will be developed further after the RCAC signs a contract with the artist after the funds have been secured. 


Coun. Kathy Wallace said, “I think it’s a great design, I really like it. Part of it is the playfulness of it; the other is the relationship between parent and child.” 


Coun. Jill Spearn said, “More public art on our streetscape will enhance our downtown even more.”


We caught up with Fleming just as she was printing a grant application to the Columbia-Kootenay Cultural Alliance (CKCA) for the funds that remain to be raised for the $18,000 budget. Some $15,000 will pay for the sculpture itself, including materials, labours, transportation, and taxes. About $3000 will go towards the construction of the base and installation—for which the city has now pledged $1000 in-kind—and contract administration.


The RCAC has put forward $4000, and grants are pending from the Columbia Basin Trust’s Community Initiatives Fund ($3000 requested) and Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance ($10,000).


“One of our goals is to have arts and culture more visually represented in our downtown,” Fleming said. “We are such a sports-focused community, so we want to make sure visitors realize at first glance that there’s thriving arts and culture here as well, not just a fun sports community.”


The sculpture will also contribute to broader plans to promote a “regional sculpture walk” that will build off last year’s sculpture walk in Castlegar. Fleming explained that Rossland and other participating communities in the West Kootenay would have both permanent sculptures and “rotating” sculptures on a “rental-lease basis.”


Although the Playing Bears are still in the “conceptual phase,” Fleming is confident the idea will continue to improve with time. “In my experience,” she said, “it usually works out better if you leave the artist to do their thing. As you work on something, things get better as your creative juices get going.”


Other News Stories