Cree artist Stewart Steinhauer supervised the successful installation of his granite sculpture Mother Bears Pray for Earth Healing outside city hall on Tuesday afternoon, but the 6300kg bench necessitated the use of a larger crane than originally planned.
“This is like Jaws, but instead it’s ‘we’re going to need a bigger crane’,” joked cultural development officer Joy Barrett, who oversaw the process as public works employees Kip St. Thomas and Steve Sabo maneuvered it into place.
The sculpture now graces the entrance to city hall and also functions as a resting spot for weary pedestrians walking up and down Ward St. According to Steinhauer, the intent is for the maternal bears to create a welcoming atmosphere.
“That central pool, or bowl, is a prayer offering plate from the Cree culture. The mother bear symbolizes acceptance of everyone who comes to the circle. No one is rejected, everyone is valued,” Steinhauer told the Star.
“In a ceremonial setting, whoever turns up it’s felt they were meant to turn up, so even if enemies arrive they’ll set aside their enmity. That’s what the mother bear is all about.”
So when people sit on his bench, he wants them to feel like they belong.
“The seating welcomes everyone, regardless of their background, to join the bears at the bowl and speak with the mysterious forces of creation about healing the earth.”
Steinhauer said it’s time the global climate crisis was addressed.
“We’re seeing the effects on every corner of the globe, and there’s almost no truly clean land left. I was born and raised on a reserve, and I remember my dad once said ‘white people say we’re not developed, but one day this is going to be the only clean land left in North America that hasn’t been logged or mined or polluted.”
Steinhauer said he has no “corporate or wealthy” clients, and all the public art he has on display—including a piece in the Castlegar Sculpturewalk—is intended to celebrate his Cree, Ojibwe and Mohawk ancestors.
“In my opinion Nelson is where there are real artists,” said Steinhauer. “I don’t consider myself to be one, I work in isolation, but there are people here like John McKinnon who are brilliant.”
Along with his wife Cindi, Steinhauer brought two additional bear sculptures to share with the Nelson community, since they proved to be so popular the last time he came through town. He said his close friend, business owner Howie Ross, was instrumental in getting him this opportunity.
“I was sitting in a sweat lodge years ago and all of a sudden Howie popped into my mind. I thought ‘what does that mean?’ I hadn’t seen him in decades. But I decided to go see him, and planned my first trip through the Kootenays.”
That was 6 or 7 years ago, and yesterday Ross was on hand to watch his friend complete the project. Steinhauer thanked both Ross and Barrett for supporting his work. He said there’s something about bears that seems to appeal to a universal audience.
“The last time I was through here we parked the bears on Baker Street, taking up two spots, and then a phenomenal event happened—people just began to converge, climbing all over it and looking at them. We ended up standing there the entire morning. It seems to click with people readily.”
The sculpture will be available for sale after it’s one-year loan with the city, and the current asking price is $100,000.