Bear Fountain art project fosters unity

Artist Steve Prince recently rolled through Geneseo to celebrate Cultural Harmony Week and to teach about art as a vehicle for healing. 

Prince gave a lecture titled “Rebirth: The Trials of Nicodemus,” on Oct. 18, which addressed how communities can collectively deal with societal issues such as socioeconomics and race through art and other creative endeavors. 

He also led a series of community art classes focused on carving woodblocks. Prince then used these creations as part of a large-scale community art project on Friday Oct. 20. 

A New Orleans native, Prince is well known for his community art projects and mixed media work. Based on this experience, Distinguished Teaching Professor of English Beth McCoy invited him to Geneseo to speak and conduct the art project.

“The inspiration for this project came from the notion of the bear fountain—and the trauma that it’s been through—being destroyed and then repaired,” Prince said. 

The work of art itself is a woodblock print. Prince designed the centerpiece, which depicts two parents hugging their children, one of whom is holding a teddy bear—symbolizing Emmeline and the bear fountain. All the woodblocks carved by students, faculty and community members surround this central design. 

Students who attended the workshops stated that they had positive experiences when making the prints. 

“[Prince] brought us all around this worktable that he had, and told us about the meaning behind it—how it’s based on trauma and healing,” English major junior Brianne Briggmann said.

The pieces surrounding the center design are irregularly shaped and put in without any pattern. The randomness, however, is not by accident.

“[The pattern] represents how everyone is given a piece in life, but we don’t get to control ours,” McCoy said. 

Attendees formed a production line, brought up pieces of the print to be coated in ink and then returned them to their place. Meanwhile, the canvas that the ink would be transferred to was misted with water that—appropriately—came from the bear fountain.  

After the canvas was revealed, everyone there clearly felt accomplished at completing the art project as a group. The work of art itself does not yet have a permanent home, but will hang somewhere on the Geneseo campus.  

This sense of community was a fitting conclusion to the event and to the larger celebration of Cultural Harmony Week.