The Begging Bear is one of Guelph’s most popular statues, as it plays a major role in interacting with the city of Guelph. Carl Skelton, a prominent sculptor known for creating iconic statues, created the Begging Bear in the summer of 1997. The statue was then purchased by the art gallery with the funds donated by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, along with the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Program in 1999. It is now located beside the Art Gallery beside a bus stop, welcoming the community of Guelph.
The birth of the tradition on dressing the Begging Bear remains a complete mystery. It is unknown who exactly started the trend of dressing up the bear. About 15 years ago, right after the statue was installed, the tradition became more relevant. The City of Guelph began to progressively interact with the statue, to not only feel like a part of the community, but to also gain the satisfaction of participating with fellow friends to dressing up the bear. It’s evident that the residents of Guelph have taken it upon themselves to give the Begging Bear random outfits throughout the years. There’s no doubt that the statue has become a symbol of pride for the city.
The variation of choices are limitless, as the statue has the form and posture to take on a wide variety of costumes. There are restrictions associated with dressing the bear, as not everything that the bear is dressed with can be deemed socially appropriate. The statue used to be painted on as well, but this rule is now prohibited because of the fact that there could be permanent or long-lasting stains that result in hard labor maintenance. Overall, the community of Guelph has a good reputation for dressing the bear in accordance with the Art Gallery prohibitions.
When discussing the matter of who takes the clothes off, it can be either the community of Guelph or the Art Gallery. If an individual wanted their item(s) back, then he/she would simply take it from the bear after it has served its accustomed time. If no individual were to claim the item(s) for themselves, then the Art Gallery will simply take the item(s). The Art Gallery has the option of either disposing those items, or keeping it for themselves by putting it in a storage box specifically for the statue. The choice is completely dependent on the condition of the items and whether or not they can still serve purpose for other events. The Art Gallery occasionally uses the items collected from the bear for dressing other statues contained within the premises of the Gallery. Factors that can potentially ruin the condition of the item(s) revolve around weather severity (rain, snow, hail, etc.), as well as human behaviors (ripping, destroying, burning, etc.).
After interviewing the Art Gallery based on what they think about the situation of dressing the bear, it was recognized that they were extremely happy and impressed. The fact that a simple tradition grew so much in popularity surprised not only the gallery, but Carl Skelton himself. The gallery is always in consultation with the artist, and they both embrace the fact that it gets dressed, as they are fully aware of the situation at hand. “The community has a fierce love for the statue, as they have taken it into their own hands to develop and incorporate new ideas and messages” said the Art Gallery. They also mentioned that “It was definitely not expected for the community to interact with it directly, but more so passively”, as they expected the community to just take pictures or simply observe the statue. Overall they were impressed and fascinated, and are hoping that this special tradition will continue on throughout the near future.
The gallery mentioned that the statue was removed a couple of times for conservation purposes, and possibly will be again in the future. There were several times in the past where they had continued this process, as it is essential for maintaining the integrity of the statue, and enabling the community of Guelph to interact with it.
Everyone, including Carl Skelton and the Art Gallery are all pleased with what the Begging Bear has become. Although the statue is very interactive and represents a connection between the natural world and humans, its significance also stresses the importance of disappearing wilderness and encroachment of animal habitats. It is our duty as a community to recognize and contribute to the necessary demands for change on human impact towards the environment. The Begging Bear helps bring the community of Guelph together for recreational purposes, as well as work towards the common goal of helping the environment.