I lived in Anchorage, Alaska from about the age of four to eighteen. I don't remember too much of school, not being there half the time, but I do remember learning about bears. Or rather, about how to deal with bears.
Starting in grade school (actually called Bear Valley now that I think of it) we learned the difference between brown, grizzly and black bears and what to do if we ever ran into one. Polar bears, living mostly up north past the Artic Circle and at zoos were not considered as big as a threat as the black bears that went though our garbage cans, and could climb up trees, or like the grizzly bears who because of their sheer size and grouchy attitudes were the most terrifying to me.
When you go camping in Alaska, you will see signs saying how long it has been since the last grizzly attack, how numerous they are in the area, and if it happens to be a special time of year for bears. You sew bells into your clothes, carry bear mace, and practice playing dead.
Despite, or maybe because of the fear that we do have for bears, they are one of the more endearing animal archetypes. There are teddy bears of course, the little and big dipper in the night sky can alternativly be called the little and big bear. And then there is Winnie the Pooh, the Three Bears, bears drinking coke, fuzzy wuzzy bears, bears filled with honey, and bears named Smokey, among numerous others.
It seems as if our love for bears outshines the fear. And there is something fascinating about bears, they do seem remarkably human after all. Their diet doesn't seem that different, neither do their body movements or priorities. At the same time, they are obviously very different. Unlike monkeys, who can seem a bit too human at times, bears will always be fundamentally different from humans in their expressions and attitudes.
It is this combination of familiar and fear that I believe make them into such a strong archetype, one that is still found in current myth and media. They represent the instinctual animal part that is in us. They represent the earthly body, with its heaviness and hibernation. It is these thoughts that have started my new series of paintings of bears, which I am just now beginining to flesh out.
Here's a video of a Russian dancing bear to end this. I have mix feelings about this video, as I do with any "wild" animal preforming tricks for humans, but I do feel like it illustrate the simularities between us and them.
Kelsey Jenkinson is a 27 year old artist in currently living and working in Austin, Texas.