An internationally significant piece of public art is about to find a permanent home in uptown Charlotte.
Buddy Bear, a 6-foot fiberglass bear sculpture painted by artist Sharon Dowell, will be the first of its kind in the Southeast.
The project originated in Berlin, and numerous cities across the world have their own Buddy Bear.
Kurt Waldthausen, former honorary consul of Germany in North Carolina, spearheaded the project. It came about, he said, because he saw a Buddy Bear in front of the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.
“That prompted my interest,” he said, “and I started digging a little deeper and found out about the Buddy Bear and its purpose, which is really, essentially, that all people of all nations have to get to know each other and understand each other better, which will lead to more trust and cooperation in return. I thought that was a wonderful idea.”
An international project
The initiative began with the United Buddy Bears in 2001. Every nation represented in the U.N. was invited to select an artist from their country to paint a bear, with the motifs of their nation in mind. The sculptures traveled the world, posed hand in hand in a circle, to represent human tolerance and cultural appreciation.
“At the time (of the United Buddy Bears), I suggested to the German Embassy that the Buddy Bear world tour should bring the Buddy Bears to the United States,” Waldthausen says. “Unfortunately, the German Embassy at the time decided against this project, for whatever reasons. Because I like to persevere, I decided, well, if I can’t bring 140 Buddy Bears to the United States, I’m going to design a Buddy Bear to signify friendship between Germany and Mecklenburg County, and the city of Charlotte, and the people on both sides.”
Waldthausen, along with a contingent of local businesses with German ties, set to work to bring a Buddy Bear to the city. With the aid of the Arts & Science Council, a call was put out to local artists, and Dowell was eventually selected.
“It’s not your typical art project,” Dowell says. “Public art is an opportunity to educate people. I hope that will be one of the outcomes of this, and for people to feel more of a connection to where they are.”
“The way the Buddy Bear will be painted will definitely have something to do with our shared history, and it will also come with a plaque that will briefly underline its significance,” he says. “Hopefully people will become interested in the history between Mecklenburg, North Carolina, and Mecklenburg, Western Pomerania in Germany, and Queen Charlotte.”
Once the sculpture arrives via steamer it will be placed in front of the main branch of the public library at 310 N. Tryon St.
A limited number of prints of Dowell’s design are set to be printed, with profits from sales going to support the library.
“It’s a win-win project for all concerned,” says Waldthausen. “And for the German contingent that is represented through its funders … for the tremendous hospitality that we have received when coming from Germany to the region, this is a very small thank you and a very small gift in response to the wonderful friendships we have made.”