In 2012, the Rossland Council for Arts and Culture (RCAC) sent out a call for submissions from artists all the Columbia Basin to come up with proposals for a statue on Columbia Avenue.
The themes for the project were a celebration of Rossland’s heritage, or a reflection of Rossland’s surroundings. In all, they received about 15 proposals and it was put to a jury to decide which of them would best suit the streets of Rossland.
Nelson artist John McKinnon won the honour with his proposal for a bear sculpture.
“I’ve been working on the statue on and off for about a year now. I did most of the work this summer,” said McKinnon.
When asked about his choice of subject, McKinnon said it came pretty naturally. “Rossland’s mascot is the black bear.”
As the statue was being placed, a Rosslander walked by and remarked, “It is so Rossland. I’m actually on my way to clean up after a bear in my backyard.”
The bears were made with welded pieces of steel, and McKinnon figured out different techniques as he worked.
McKinnon has been an artist for about 40 years and he said he wanted his sculpture to say something.
“I wanted to show movement; that adds another level to the sculpture. That they are anthropomorphic brings an extra level too,” explained McKinnon.
McKinnon described how he wanted them to have a human feel. One of the bears is lying on its back while the other bear is standing on its paws.
“They are doing something bears wouldn’t normally do,” clarified McKinnon. He tititled the sculpture “Acro Bears,” as he felt it explains the feeling behind it.
“Look at the details. The teeth and claws are made in bronze; it’s neat,” commented Renate Fleming of the RCAC.
A grant of $10,000 for a public scultpture was awarded to the RCAC by the Columbia-Kootenay Cultural Alliance and McKinnon received $5000 of that for his work.
An additional grant from the Columbia Basin Trust Community Initiative was used to cover the installation costs of the statue.
“The city has given us this spot and helped set up the base for the statue,” explained Fleming.
“It is nice to do a piece for Rossland. It’s great,” McKinnon said. He already has sculptures on display in Nelson, Revelstoke and Cranbrook.
Fleming expressed how pleased she is that it was a local artist who made the permanent sculpture.
“We have gotten great comments on Rusty. People like having him here,” said Fleming about the horse sculpture further down on Columbia Avenue, leased from Castlegar’s Scuplturewalk.
The hope is that the Acro Bears become as beloved of the community. And judging by the attention the statue gained as it was installed, they definitely will.