For many the Begging Bear has become a vision of pride and joy to Guelph. Unlike the other statues here in Guelph, the Bear comes to life as it is transformed by the people who take part in the tradition of dressing him up. Although almost everyone in Guelph knows this beloved Bear, not many actually know who and what the Bear stands for.
What did the sculptor actually envision for the Begging Bear?
Who is the real Begging Bear underneath all of the costumes and personas?
Carl Skelton, the sculptor of the Begging Bear, first came up with the vision behind the statue after visiting a taxidermy shop where he was exposed to various animals standing alone in the style of tableaux. The statue reflects the still life of a bear, but with also human like characteristics in representing the human world interesting with the natural world. The human characteristics seen on the Bear are muscular shoulders, erect posture, saggy belly and unusual footing. The statue however lacks one piece that makes it less life like, eyes. Skelton wanted there to be more of an eerie presences of the Bear rather than direct communication. He thought if he showcased the Bear with all of its natural bear characteristics, then the audience would see the sculpture as a big cute teddy bear, shielding them from the real meaning of the Bear as a representation of nature and the roles we play in it.
To many the Bear may seem like an empty canvas, as it bares very little detail, but for Carl Skelton the Bear symbolizes our ties with nature and the impact humans have had on animals, portraying the Bear as vulnerable rather than a vicious animal. With its paw outstretched its reaching out not to beg but to ask for the protection and help towards Canada’s native animals. It reaches out for help, for acknowledgment and for us to be mindful about nature. Its extended arm provide us with the connection between our world and the natural world.
The Begging Bear with its upturned paw lures people in and is seen as the greeter to the Art Gallery. Many believe the reasoning for his location, in front of the bus stop, was so people could interact with him more. When the Begging Bear was installed however, the Art Gallery nor Carl Skelton anticipated the reaction they would get from the public. The way people interpreted the statue was beyond what they could have ever imagined. As the tradition started from dressing up the Bear, the Art Gallery grew scared that this tradition would be inappropriate and seen as a defacement of art. Not only were they taken back when people started dressing up the Bear, but were heavily concerned on how Carl Skelton would think of all of this. However when the Art Galley approached Skelton about the issue, they were surprised to learn the he approved the interaction of what is now a Guelph tradition, as he truly enjoys the idea of people engaging with his art work.
It’s strange how people can interpret things differently and those interpretations be passed down. For many the Begging Bear has simply been seen as a blank canvas waiting to be dressed up and nothing more. Standing by the bus stop to greet those and beg for what many people can guess to be spare change to ride the bus. Although the people of Guelph have seen the Begging Bear in a different way, we still have to remember that the Begging Bear is a piece of art and that it has a meaning much deeper than for the need to be dressed up or be given spare change. While the tradition of dressing up the Bear will still live on, perhaps the next time you see the Bear you will see him as begging for a much greater cause.