Fourteen full-size bears rolled into downtown Anchorage on Sunday — or rather, bear statues, to be precise. The full-size, plain-white fiberglass forms are destined to be decorated by local artists and placed around Anchorage in a project sponsored by the Anchorage Downtown Partnership and the Anchorage Bear Education Committee.
The bears were manufactured by American Fiberglass Animals, the Seward, Nebraska, company that started the trend of civic animal art with cow statues put on display in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1998. "Cows on Parade" then moved to Chicago. Alligators, turtles, pigs and other critters have since been featured in similar events in more than 300 other venues.
Jeff and Raimie Harrison, the son-in-law and daughter of company founder Patrick Keough, drove a trailer with the animals bolted to it up the Alaska Highway. They started the drive from Nebraska on Monday. The road was "a lot bumpier than we'd hoped," Raimie Harrison said. Flooding in British Columbia slowed progress, but the statues made the trip in good shape.
"We saw 14 real bears on the highway," Jeff Harrison said. "And we had 15 on the truck."
The spare bear was dropped off with an artist before the trailer arrived in front of the Westmark Anchorage Hotel. The rest of the shipment will be delivered to various sites to be decorated prior to display.
"We got a few raised eyebrows when we came into Canada," Jeff Harrison said. "But the American Customs (officers) just waved us on through."
Along the route, people took photos of the trailer full of bruins and peppered them with questions. " 'What are they for?' 'Where are they going?' " Jeff said. "And here's one you don't hear every day: 'What are they?' "
The arrival of the bears on Fifth Avenue similarly drew a good deal of attention, with visitors and locals alike gawking and taking photos. Siblings Sofia, Teya and Maksim Magajne, ages 9, 8 and 6, visiting from Chicago got a special treat when Jeff Harrison hoisted them on top of three of the statues.
"They're a lot bigger than I thought," said Buzz Rohlfing, owner of tourist businesses at Bear Square, Fourth Avenue and E Street. One of the 6-foot statues will be placed there as part of the "Parade of Bears."
Others will be displayed at locations ranging from The Alaska Public Land Information Center downtown to the Alaska Zoo, Alaska Botanical Gardens and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Once the artists have had their way with the fiberglass forms and the finished products are set up, a map of sites will be available at the Visit Anchorage Visitor Information Center.
The bears were originally scheduled to be delivered and finished on time for the International Bear Association Conference held in Anchorage June 12-16. Nine were originally ordered but, as word spread, additional sponsors signed up for a total of 13. Keogh added two more at no charge.
"Just find a good home for them," he wrote to the Downtown Partnership. "It's bad luck to have only 13 bears."
One of those standing bears is still up for grabs, said Brenda Carlson, visitor services director with Visit Anchorage. Groups, businesses or individuals interested in claiming it can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.