By Kate Radford

Fiberglass Bear Painted by Local Artist in 2004 comes to Lincoln


Last updated 12/23/2019 at 5:19pm

Roger Dey

From 2002-2007, Lincoln artist Annie Allen decorated five bears as part of Helena's Last Chance Bear Encounter Public Art Project. One of her bears has recently returned to Lincoln.

The Bear Encounter was hosted by Downtown Helena both as a fundraiser and a way to make the Last Chance Gulch area of Helena a destination location for families and tourists. Artists submitted proposals for the juried project by mocking up their bear design on a black and white drawing of a bear. In addition to professional artists, schools and groups of students were invited to design bears.

Over the years, the size, shape, and structure of the fiberglass bears changed from tall standing bears to smaller bears sitting on their haunches. One reason for these changes was vandalism to the bears during the first year of the event. Allen's bear was one of those defaced by vandals, and that year, some of the money raised went to replacing damaged bears.

Each year, the bears were unveiled at Alive @ Five and then placed on display in downtown Helena throughout the summer. After summer was over, the bears were auctioned off, raising money for charities and for the following year's Bear Encounter. Twelve bears raised an average of $1,000 apiece at the first auction in 2002.

In 2004, 24 bears were unveiled at Alive @ Five as part of Helena's Celebrate One-Forty festivities. Among these bears was Allen's "Peaceful Youth." It depicted children's faces, including those of some Lincoln children, and symbols of peace worldwide.

"We can easily reach people through children's eyes," said Allen, describing her artwork.

Allen's bear was sponsored by the Montana Book & Toy Co., the Base Camp, Cross Currents, and Cooney Island and spent the summer on the 300 block of Last Chance Gulch.

After being auctioned off, Marilyn McKibben donated "Peaceful Youth" to the Lewis & Clark Library in Helena, where it has been on display since. In November, with the Lewis & Clark Library undergoing renovations, the bear was relocated to the Lincoln Branch Library and is now on display in the Library's Community Room.

Community art projects like this have highlighted local artists in many larger cities, such as Chicago, but also closer to home with exhibits like the "Hooked on Paddlefish Project" in 2009 in Glendive, MT.

Roger Dey

"I'd love to see one of these creatures for the kids at Lincoln to do," Allen said.

This year, Allen is participating in a similar event in Tubac, Arizona, where she also has a studio. "Javelinas de Tubac" showcases 40 javelinas of varying sizes painted by area artists. The project is designed to bring greater tourism, revenue, and collaboration to the community. In the statement about her javelina, "Alice Land," Allen writes, "There is a spark, a connection, an intertwining of art spirits from Montana to Arizona." Allen's javelina will reside in the Tucson International Airport through March 2020 before it is auctioned off.


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