Out of Hibernation: BearFest Grants Pass 2021
As the days heat up, so does the excitement to hit the road, and what could be more fun than to be greeted by the adorable, playful bears of the Evergreen BearFest celebration. A summer favorite, the fiberglass bear sculptures will be on display throughout the city of Grants Pass from Memorial Day til Labor Day.
“It started in 2003 when our bank president, Brady Adams, had the idea to create 16 fiberglass art sculptures to display as public artwork,” explains Evergreen Federal Bank Vice-President of Marketing, Melissa Vierra. “They were then auctioned off at the end of the summer to raise money for local nonprofits.”
Since its inception, over 180 bears have been created and the majority of them sold, raising over $250,000 for charity. Realizing their popularity as a community celebration and tourist attraction, Evergreen stopped selling the bears and built a permanent home for the remaining 60 plus sculptures where they’re now stored when not adorning city sidewalks. The warehouse facility, called the Bear Hotel, was soon transformed into an engaging community asset building where Evergreen hosts its annual fundraisers. And a tour’s been created within its vast space, called the Southern Oregon Adventure, taking visitors through artistic depictions of Crater Lake and the redwoods, along river scenes to the ocean. And, of course, the bears are there.
“We’ve worked with many artists—one of the stipulations is they have to be local and because making the bears has become a little more complicated we have to work with those who are familiar with the process,” says Vierra. “This year we’re working with Rogue Community College (RCC) to create one for them and we’ve commissioned artist Bob Eding who’s been with BearFest since the beginning and knows every facet of how to make these bears.”
Eding, whose historical, building-size murals can be seen in Grants Pass, Rogue River and Medford, has created over 20 bears since 2003.
“I met up with Brady (Adams) when he was starting to push the art a little more for Grants Pass,” Eding shares. “He was a visionary and marketing genius, just one of those good people who wanted to give back to the community.”
Together, they worked out the sculpting ideas and a team of volunteers was created to help organize and operate the event.
“For the first couple of years we had molds made of the bears and they were sent to Canada to be constructed, and then shipped back to Grants Pass,” explains Eding. “At that time we were doing around 15-20 bears.”
The tedious and costly process was soon redesigned and Eding helped initiate an alternative way of making the festive statues.
“I began hand-carving individual bears out of foam, and there are about five of us who make the bear, with maybe 30-40 other artists who can paint on them and do add-ons,” he explains. “It takes about 2 months to create a bear, from drawing to fiberglassing, and it takes another several weeks to paint it; it’s quite a process.”
The new RCC bear, he says, will be wearing a backpack, sitting down reading a book called “Salmon 101,” with the college’s osprey mascot perched on the bear’s knee. Other signature features can be spotted on the newest BearFest addition, which will be mounted at one of RCC’s campuses. Maps showing where each of the bears is located can be picked up at an Evergreen Bank branch and the Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce.
“But locals know where they are now—the bears pretty much go to the same spots because a lot of businesses like them and want to keep them there,” Eding says. “It’s neat to go into town and see the people taking photos and interacting with the bears.”