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Bear figurines hibernate after auction raises $43,050


Think Big Bear drew the biggest bid — $7,000. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Downtown Hendersonville visitors got their artistic bear bearings one last time, as the Bearfootin’ Public Art Walk recently closed with an auction raising $43,050 — with half going to local charities.

The city’s Downtown Economic Development Director Lew Holloway tallied total bids on the 20 bear statues Oct. 24. He said revenue exceeded the $35,000 last year, is the best in at least a half-decade and likely the most ever. Further, Historic Downtown Hendersonville’s event drew more (pre-registered only) bidders than ever.


This aqua-adorned bear benefits Team ECCO Ocean Center and Aquarium. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Half of proceeds go to charity. The bears in this millennium have generated over $220,000 for local charities. The other half pays for the bear blank figurines and promotion.

Jim Kastetter was among hundreds packing the square and courthouse steps, to watch the auction. He started the bear public art project in 2003, as Downtown Hendersonville Inc. director in 1999-2005. He told The Tribune the number of bears rose from 22 to a peak of 32 in 2005, but now have settled in at 20.

The figurines were displayed outside various businesses along Main Street starting May 8. Then in their last hurrah, they were clustered onto Historic County Courthouse Square. There, prospective bidders and others viewed them for two hours leading to an hour-long auction.


The mosaic bear, Hope, benefits the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Auctioneer Stan Shelley handled the auction. His quips playfully encouraged further bidding for a good cause, such as “I need (larger amount) for (the non-profit).” The crowd was among the biggest for this benefit auction, and most bubbling, Shelley said. “We had no trouble getting opening bids. That’s of measure of the energy.”

The top bid was a whopping $7,000 aptly-named Think Big Bear snared early on. Champion Hills bought the bear as its sponsor, dedicating proceeds to the Henderson County Education Foundation. Veronika Hart painted bears and raccoons into a nature scene on the figurine.


Blue Bear honors law enforcement officers. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Bears benefiting the Flat Rock Playhouse (FRP), Carl Sandburg Home and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy each surpassed $4000. The top bid in ’03 was $3,200 for “Spirit Bear,” and the most ever $10,000, Kastetter and Shelley noted. Only one went for the $800 minimal bid. The bears averaged over $2,000 each.

A mosaic set apart Hope, originally named Bipolar Bear, which garnered $3,750. Dr. Debbie Schusler is both its artist and sponsor, to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

An aqua scene adorns Cassio-Bear-A, to benefit Team ECCO Ocean Center and Aquarium. Robbie Clark is the artist, and Falguni Hospitality its sponsor.


Mama Merrell is the most lady-like bear. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Two by Beverly Russell have a man’s head in place of the bear head. One, Blue Bear, is dedicated to all law enforcement officers. Sara and Rich Arell sponsored it, to benefit The Healing Place. The other is Alfred, sponsored by Hannah Flanagan’s Irish Pub to benefit the Mainstay women’s crisis shelter.

Words such as “create,” “challenge” and “respect” visually drive Samantha Yaeger’s #Ins-“bear”-ation, sponsored by Dennis and Victoria Flanagan to benefit FRP.


Auctioneer Stan Shelley talks about Promise, which Elizabeth McAfee decorated. Sierra Nevada sponsored it, for the local Human Society shelter. Photo by Pete Zamplas. 

All but three are standing bears, about four feet tall. Carl Sandbear (Sandburg Home, by Cynthia Wilson) was in a walking position. The other two each depicted an adult and cub sitting together.

Some sponsors bid to get back the bear outside their businesses this summer. Merrell Paint and Decorating Inc. manager, Monica Davis, came very close to retaining Mama Merrell. Gretchen Wiles topped it with a floral bonnet. The beneficiary is the Housing Assistance Corp. After the bid went beyond Davis’ pre-set limit, she reasoned with a pleased smile it means more money for the non-profit group.

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