After being gone for two and a half months, the bear sculpture in front of the Alaska State Capitol is back. It returned Monday after Main Street improvements in that area were complete. During its absence, the bear received touch-up work by original artist Skip Wallen and sculptor Steve Parks.
Skip Wallen guesses how many times his bear sculpture has been touched over the years.
“Close to a million people pass through Juneau each year and if one out of ten of those people patted that bear, that would be 100,000 pats per year.”
At that rate, Wallen says, that’s a total of 2 and a half million pats in the past 25 years.
“But nobody pats it one time,” he says. “They go pat, pat, pat, so I figured that must be up in the 7-8 million range of rubs and pats on that bear.”
All those touches and pats caused the bronze bear to turn red in certain spots, like the ears and nose.
“The kids like to climb on it and they grab hold of the ears, then a lot of people like to rub the nose because it’s just a convenient spot to reach over and put your hand on,” Wallen explains.
It was brought to the rock dump where Wallen and sculptor Steve Parks worked on the bear for four days in June.
“We applied chemistry to those spots to try to match it with the areas of the bear that had not been rubbed and patted.”
This is the first time touch-up work has been done on the bear in 26 years.
“Some people told me those were love pats and I should have left the bear and not retouched them,” Wallen says. “I just thought, well, it’s not much effort to pay a little attention to the bronze and start afresh for another 25 years.”
Wallen originally began work on the sculpture in 1984 to honor 25 years of Alaska statehood. It’s made from recycled high power lines that once ran across the state of Colorado.
He named the piece ‘Windfall Fisherman,’ based on bear drawings done at Windfall Harbor on Admiralty Island.
Wallen is currently working on a new public sculpture of another iconic Alaska creature – a humpback whale.