Photo: Domenica Bongiovanni/Journal & Courier

Photo: Domenica Bongiovanni/Journal & Courier

You've met the bears. Now hear some stories

Journal & Courier, May 13, 2015

By Deomenica Bongiovanni

Residents have greeted the behemoth creatures, along with two lions and a tiger, for the past week and a half. Here are a few of their backstories.

Submit your goofiest photos with the bears to Read below for details.

By now, you've probably met most of the four-legged newcomers that make up the "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!" public art exhibit. You've admired their shiny colors, accessories and expressions.

But do you really know them?

Behind each of the 37 bears, two lions and tiger lies a story about the artists and their creative process — one that in many cases was done over the course of a few months in unheated garages, living rooms or wherever else the bears would fit through the door.

This labor has been celebrated and tested of the past week and a half. The public has delighted in the newest residents, and vandals have damaged a few of them.

So in time for the official welcome event Friday at the Bison Financial building, here are a few of their stories.


Other bears might charm you with their adorableness, but "Everybody Rides" brings a cool, edgy vibe to this summer's group.

The animal is best understood as part of Steven Vaughan's oeuvre — one he calls conceptual photo realism. His paintings weave people, symbols, and eye-capturing colors into social and political statements.

His bear is no different. One side, Vaughan said, depicts Greater Lafayette movers and shakers — including former mayors Jim Riehle, from Lafayette, and Sonya Margerum, from West Lafayette.

The other side shows people who use the bus. Vaughan features civil rights activist Rosa Parks and a few riders that are a big part of Vaughan's own world — his daughter, son and girlfriend.

Vaughan welded an air cleaner on the bear's nose and three exhaust pipes on its top. His plan was to attach the accessories in such a way that they wouldn't break the fiberglass of the animal if they were torn off.

His foresight paid off in another instance of vandalism. About a week after "Everybody Rides" was installed on Main Street, part of the nose and one of the exhaust pipes was ripped off but didn't damage the fiberglass, Vaughan said.

He said he will repair the bear and hopes this doesn't dampen the public's excitement about public art. Vaughan suspects the act had more to do with boredom than malicious intent.

"I guess I just ... try to keep my sense of humor about it and hope for the best," he said.


Ken Klim is in the sign business, but he relishes automobile art painting. So when he was brainstorming ideas for the bear, a cartoon car wasn't a stretch. And he's grateful to his wife helping him with that decision.

Figuring out which auto, however, is no easy task. Klim settled on an early 1950s Chevrolet sedan delivery vehicle. This type of automobile, he said, was used to bring services to homes or businesses, whether it was a milk wagon or cobbler.

But how exactly do you paint a car on a bear? The execution is harder than it sounds.

Klim had to figure out how to paint the front end on the bear's head and still make the car's wide back end work on the rear of the animal. He tackled the challenge, he said, by simply deciding to make the eyes headlights and then work from there.


Painting flowers is Bobbi Smith's calling card. She's been doing it for a while and thought the bear's curved surface would add something extra to her design. "Blossom" gave her ample chance to do that — during the process, Smith said she felt like the bear would never run out of space.

During that time, Smith said she and another artist worked on bears at Lifelong Fitness. The front lobby of the studio became a place for a public art process — people stopped in and watched them work, which added to the fun, she said.

When you meet "Blossom," you might encounter the same character the artist sees in him — a young boy who thinks he's pretty cool. But whoever he is, Smith said he'll forever be a part of her family.


When you ask about his style, one of the first things Jeff Klinker will tell you is that he's a plein air painter, which basically means that he creates outside and on site. When he saw how much space was on the bear, he said he thought it would be the perfect opportunity to incorporate his background, even though he had to work inside during cold months.

"I'd Rather Be Fishing" is covered with impressionistic-style landscape — and bears who are fishing. The dreamy look in the animal's eyes draws the viewer into its daydreams of fishing, Klinker said, which are depicted on each side.

And what does a plein air painter do if he can't witness his subjects in action?

He uses the magic of 21st-century technology. Klinker hopped online, found video of bears fishing and took some screenshots to work off of.


Rachel Witt is passionate about mosaic — what she calls taking broken things and piecing them together to create beauty. And while she's at it, she likes to smash stereotypes that depict her art form as cheesy and requiring little thought.

"There Bear" will certainly give viewers a lot to think about. The animal's coat incorporates a multitude of pieces that form a variety of local and national symbols, among others. Witt jokes that she refuses to count the hours she spent on this — or her other work — in order to keep her sanity. While she created the mosaic herself, she said she mined ideas from a fifth-grade class at Happy Hollow Elementary School.

Emphasis on place is apparent in the star on the animal's nose, which is a common marker for pinpointing where you are, Witt said. Look closely, and you'll find the Wabash River in a band around the bear's head, the Purdue University "P," a bald eagle and the Big Dipper, among many others. But don't stop there — "There Bear" is one that will keep you searching.


Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak's work — which includes the "Little Bear" series and "Where the Wild Things Are" has a special place in Janet Ivas' heart. She read the stories to her younger siblings when they were kids as well as her own children.

So when it came time to decide on a theme for her bear, Ivas decided to re-create 11 of Sendak's books' characters on the animal. Keeping with his style — which changed over time — was her goal.

With no idea who would sponsor her bear or where it would be placed, Ivas said she began the project by researching Sendak at Tippecanoe County Public Library. As the process of placing the animals ended up, "Maurice" landed outside that very spot.

If you go

What: "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!" welcome event

When: 6-9 p.m. Friday

Where: Bison Financial building, 839 Main St.

Details: People can obtain paper maps, refreshments and books made from previous hogs and frogs exhibits, said Kendall Smith, executive director of the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette, which is in charge of the bears project.

App: An iPhone app built by West Lafayette company Cellaflora, called "Art Museum of Greater Lafayette-Events," will be ready by then, Smith said. The app will include a map of the bears and other information.

By the numbers

70 pounds: Weight of each walking bear before any art was added to it

50 pounds: Weight of each sitting bear before any art was added to it

$1,500: Average cost of each animal

About 400 pounds: Weight of the heaviest bear, Rockette, the Circus Bear, by Bonnie Zimmer

Note: Information provided by Kendall Smith, executive director of the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette

Share a bear

You've petted the bears, talked about them and marveled over their different designs. So why not add yourself to the mix and send us your goofy photos with the creatures around town?

We'll post them on the Lafayette Journal & Courier's Facebook gallery. Then we'll let people vote by liking their favorite one. The owner of the photo with the most likes wins two tickets to Taste of Tippecanoe.

We'll have one contest per week for the next four weeks. For the first round, submit your photos by May 20 to Full rules are available on the Journal & Courier's Facebook page.