Thursday, April 02, 2009

Did I ever tell you

the bear story?

My dad was an avid hunter and fisherman and brought his kids along on the fishing expeditions, but I drew the line at hunting. Target practice was fun and my biggest victim was another beer can found at the old saw mill. At about age 12 I shot a rabbit, heard him scream and that was the end of my hunting phase and the beginning of my gathering phase. Anyway, we had a log cabin camp up on the edges of Algonquin Park as the base for the outdoorsmanship training we received. My brother took to it like a natural, but I was not into it- hated portaging a canoe for miles,

hated having a guide cook my fresh caught fish in a whole can of Crisco, hated being outside in rain and cold- was basically too girly to put up with the inconveniences of peeing in the woods. But I digress.

One fall my dad took my grandfather and some hunting buddies up to the camp for some deer hunting. One of the guys saw something move and shot at it, only to find it was a mama black bear. Since it had been killed they also had to kill the 2 cubs. (Back then in the deep Canadian woods there was no rescue organization for orphaned cubs, and remember these were bears, not known as something to nurture because they were everywhere and were indeed a danger.) Anyway, that was just the Way It Was so get off the high horse and I will continue. The big bear was butchered on the spot, but not by the Indian guides because there was much superstition about bear carcasses looking quite human when skinned. It was divided up between the guide, the shooter, and a hunting lodge on the lake. The meat was put into the ice house, a log cabin filled with blocks of ice from the previous winter. The cubs were given to my dad and another guy.

The cub arrived home in the trunk of the car, easily imported over the Canadian border because my dad was busy declaring the rifles and various other stuff- he, as usual, dazzled them with too much information and was never asked to open the trunk and the guard waved him on. The whole neighborhood gathered to see the trunk open that evening and my brother and I had stories to tell at school the next day. During the next day my grandfather and dad hung the bear from a tree and dressed it in the backyard and scurried the salted skin away to a taxidermist, so the bear was disposed of by the end of school. We had no freezers back then so most of the meat was taken to a local butcher where he stored it for us and we could pick it up whenever we wanted a bit o' bear for dinner. We kept some in the small refrigerator freezer in the garage, but that was pretty full of venison and trout and who knows what else from his sprees.

My mother rendered down all the bear fat and bottled it in little brown pharmacy bottles. This was their hostess gift of choice for many years, and she insisted rubbing it into our skins at the hint of a sunburn, for the most minor scrapes, and of course for that Buffalo winter dry skin problem. I can still see the shelf in the basement with those brown bottled lined up, and I can still smell my skin treated with the bear grease. After several years they found that the stuff went rancid and to my brother's and my glee it got thrown out. I always thought of it as my inheritance and wondered how I was going to ever get rid of it.

Many months later the bear arrived back in the house without so much as losing a toenail or fang. He had been mounted on green felt, kind of a ruffle around his body and his little face was frozen into a mighty roar. He was hung on the wall in our basement rec room because my mother wouldn't have it where she had to look at it all the time.

This version, a more acceptible one for sure these days, is by Eelko Moorer, a designer from the Netherlands, and is made from rubber. I think I LOVE this, but the price is $9,800 so I guess there will be no more bear skins in my future, real or faux.

More my current feelings:
Disclaimer:  No additional bears were hurt for this blog, just the poor little guy who was shot back in 1954.  The bearskin survived for decades, but was not packed for a move from that original house, perhaps an oversight on my mother's part?  Perhaps not.  

Now, because I am a quilt maker, how 'bout some quilts?  A few years back I got on a bear kick and ended up doing a whole bunch of bear-based quilts after I found a big stack of old Bear Paw blocks in different blacks and browns.  I tried to make them work all together but it was...umm...pretty boring (with apologies to the original sewer!), so I divided them up and started using them in different ways.  I still have many left so stay tuned and see if you spot them over the next few years.

detail, Bear Collage, fabric collage on canvas.  Made with a pile of bears paw blocks purchased from a flea market and digital images of bears.

Bear Collage, canvas, paint, vintage bear paw blocks, and digital prints.

Bare Pause.  Purchased and gifted cottons, Merimekko fabric remnants, vintage bear paw blocks, and metallic organza.

Bare Clause, vintage bear paw blocks, home dec fabrics, raffia, paint and metallics.

detail, Maine, fabric collage.  Made from seam allowance of bear paw block, vintage blueberry fabric (hence the name), digital image of a black bear.


Terry said...

I am laughing at your bear story--not because of the demise of the poor bears, but because it is the most unlikely sounding story I have read here. Who knew you were from pioneer hunter stock?

Years ago I was helping to clear out my grandmother's house when she went to a nursing home. I made the mistake of sticking my arm waaaaay back into a deep cupboard and encountering fur. I pulled out a nasty, moth-eaten pelt and was told it was the coyote my dad had shot and mounted when he was in High School and it was mine for the taking! I was ready to toss it in the trash, but paused long enough to call my brother. He now has the coyote and thinks it is a grand antique remnant of our frontier roots. Ewwww.

Terry said...

PS I am extra crazy about your "Bear Pause" quilt. I'm glad your bear paw blocks are living such varied and colorful lives.