Bear in the air

A 10-ton mama polar bear and her cub got a big lift today. Once possibly bound for the landfill, the 36-year-old concrete sculpture was picked up by a crane and sent three miles across town to Havurah Shir Hadash, where she isn't a symbol of anything religious, just "saving public art with a theme of motherly love." In less than three hours, Cook's Crane of Central Point dug under the giant object, wrapped it in cables and swung it onto a flatbed truck, drove it through Ashland on Main Street and plopped it into a perfectly fitting triangular spot at the west end of the synagogue's parking lot, next to the railroad tracks.

"It looks like it's always been here," said Rabbi David Zaslow, who oversaw the project. "It seems to be smiling and happy in its new home. Emotionally, it's just exhilarating. Duane Smith commissioned it and hosted it for 30 years and we get to host it for the next thousand years!"

Smith, who had sculptor Leo Vait execute it in 1976, gave the statue to Havurah after deciding it didn't fit in with the new spa-pool theme of his Lithia Springs Inn near Highway 99 and South Valley View Drive.

However, the low bid on transporting it was $2,300, a prohibitive fee for Havurah, so Smith kicked in $500, attorney-developer Lloyd Haines matched the amount, then a Havurah member donated another $500, with Vait's family donating the rest, said Zaslow.

As the bears were being lifted from their old spot, gawkers guessed at its weight as two to four tons, but Cook's Crane owner Randy Dodd amazed all by saying it weighed 19,500 pounds. Dodd was also the crane operator who moved it to its second spot at Inn in 1993. It was created 36 years ago to adorn the entry of a doctor's office near Butler Ford.

In the 70s, Zaslow, then an owner of Jazmin's nightclub on Lithia Way, was a close friend of the sculptor, Leo Vait and had mounted some of Vait's wooden dolphins on the club walls. The doctor wanted to connect with Vait — and Zaslow connected them, leading to the bear commission. For the past 30 years, Vait has been working as a sculptor in Homer, Alaska.

When they considered taking on the bears, says Zaslow, the Havurah council had a conversation that went like this: "Is it a theme related to the synagogue? No. Does that matter? No. Is it public art? Yes. Can we afford to move it? No. Can we stand by and let public art be destroyed? No." After that, Zaslow got on the phone and made the pieces fall in place.

"Duane and Lloyd (creator of Sanctuary One, an animal rescue farm in the Applegate) rallied. It's such an image of protecting the young," said Zaslow, "and a symbol of what we all need to do for our children and our planet."

The piece shows a mama polar bear seemingly watchful of the horizon as her cub plays on a lifted paw.

"Esthetically, I love the movement, with them looking in different directions," he added.

The statue, as yet unnamed, is visible from the central Ashland bike trail, from a group of homes being built on Clear Creek Drive (off the Mountain Avenue end) — and from Mountain Avenue, looking 50 yards up the entry to Havurah.

With unexpected costs, Zaslow says the total for moving the statue is $2,900. Those wishing to make up the $600 shortfall may send checks to Bear Fund, Havurah Shir Hadash, PO Box 1262, Ashland OR 97520.

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