"I think of it as 'the mascot bear,' " says sculptor Nick Swearer - "the frumpy old bear suit the mascot wears at football games."
In 1987 Swearer, then a young and struggling artist, was working on a series of bear sculptures when a group from the class of '49 approached him. They asked to purchase a bear in honor of Nick's father, Howard, who was about to step down as Brown's president. So Nick mounted the statue on a massive stone slab ("No fraternity guys were going to carry that thing off," he says), and the bear was set in a little woodland garden outside Maddock Alumni Center.
"It's a child's bear," Swearer says. "It's child-size, and it's reaching out to you." The bear has the ratty texture of a well-loved toy and is reminiscent of beasts in Maurice Sendak's classic Where the Wild Things Are. "Frumpy, but comforting," Swearer says. "Whenever I pass it, I think of my father." Howard Swearer died in 1991.
"I never gave it a name," Nick says. He also didn't reveal the bear's secret. When he first cast the bear suit, it was just that - a hollow suit. But then he sculpted a pair of eyes peering out from behind the grin. Adults tend to miss this detail, but children whose eyes are level with the bear's mouth notice it right away. Late afternoons the sun slants in, caught briefly by those hidden eyes, and for a brief moment even a grown-up gets the joke.