Hendersonville – The Bears are out in full force—with full artistic flair—and are hungry for attention as they pose for photos on downtown sidewalks throughout this summer.
Bearfootin’ is in its 20th year as a free outdoor “art walk” to view large weather-proof fiberglass figurines and to eventually raise money for local non-profits and for Downtown Hendersonville events.
There was a brief switch years ago to goats—the animals renowned poet Carl Sandburg kept in nearby Flat Rock decades ago—and to apples to reflect Henderson County’s heritage in apple production. But public input got borne back as the project’s sole subject matter.
There are once again 20 bears spread throughout the sidewalk on the mile-long Main Street. Most are on street corners. Three variations of bears remain a tradition. Most figurines are on all four paws. Some stand on their hind legs. A few more depict a mother cuddling her cub.
They are fastened in place. They have protective coatings. Still, some people note on social media that they saw children crawling atop the sturdy bears to pose for photos. Beyond the risk that the children could fall, the onlookers expressed concern that they might scratch the art work’s surface. The bears end up with permanent homes after pricy auction bidding.
Sponsors pay for each plain bear, and choose which non-profit organization is assigned to it. A local artist designs and decorates the bear, to reflect a theme such as local scenery or its designated non-profit group.
All 20 bears go up for auction. Winning bids of up to $3,000 are split evenly between the bear’s assigned non-profit and downtown programs. Any amount beyond $3,000 goes solely to the non-profit. A select few bears in recent years have each doubled that $3,000 threshold. Bids last year raised a total of $102,000.
Bids are online Sept. 15-Oct. 15, continuing the remote format begun in the first pandemic year of 2020. Before that, bids were only taken in person on a Saturday. Such in-person bidding is now the final phase following virtual bidding. That culminating event is Saturday, Oct. 15, outside the historic courthouse on Main Street.
Scenic, Other Themes
Many of these bears have colorful nature scenes on them as main themes or backdrops for other themes. They include these bears on all four paws: “A Daisy Dogwood” by Bethany Joy that benefits St. Gerard House School for Autism, I Beg Your Garden by Judy Dempsey that benefits Bullington Gardens, Maureen Chapman’s Benny the Benevolent that benefits the Community Foundation of Henderson County, Take The Road Less Traveled by Dee Ballenger that benefits the Hendersonville Family YMCA, and A-“Flora”-ble Housing by Shayna Landreth that benefits Housing Assistance Corporation, and Iris by Natalie Bennett that benefits the Henderson County Hunger Coalition.
Hot air balloons above and a country home below are on another bear on fours—There’s No Place Like Home by Carol Clay. It benefits Charlie’s Angels Animal Rescue.
A-Barbara in Bloom by Natalie Ray has a pink combo of mother and cub. It benefits Project Dignity of WNC. A psychedelic mother and cub is Heidi Mayfield’s Haven & Bloom. It benefits the Boys & Girls Club of Henderson County.
Standing bears include A-Protect and Serve by Elizabeth Pooler. It benefits the First Responder Ministry of Henderson County. It honors local police, fire, and rescue by showing a vehicle for each crew along with the Historic Courthouse. The back of this bear has such catch phrases as “dedication,” “pride,” and “I will be alert and vigilant.” Another standing bear is Carl SandBear by Mike Ayers and the Whetstone Woodworks Crew. It benefits both the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara and the D. Hubbs and M. Sollom Scholarship Program.
Downtown Event Coordinator Meredith Freidheim and the Downtown Events Team oversee the project and its auction, with “vision and support” from Friends of Downtown Hendersonville volunteers, City Public Works and North Main Automotive.
Check this link to see the Bearfootin’ brochure with images of each bear, a list of their artists and sponsors, and a map of their locations along Main Street: https://www.hendersonvillenc.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/2022_bearfootin_roll_brochure_1.pdf.