Tahoe City’s Penny Bear
By Tim Hauserman
A walk along Tahoe City’s lakefront bluff has a new and surprising addition at the Heritage Plaza. A huge 5700 pound bear statue covered in 200,000 pennies…yes, pennies. The twelve foot tall grizzly bear and cubs called Ursa Mater was built by the artist team known as “Mr and Mrs. Ferguson” for Burning Man in 2017 and came to Tahoe City this summer. It will remain in town until July 31,2019.
The sculpture was created out of foam, layered in concrete stucco and then covered with pennies which were attached vertically into the stucco to give the appearance of hair. It took 12 artists four months to complete the work.
Robert and Lisa Ferguson are regular Burning Man attendees who met and married at Burning Man. Many of their ideas popped up while returning from Black Rock Desert, and a few years ago an after burn thought of Lisa’s was to use pennies to show the texture of fur on an animal art work. Ursa Mater is their third use of pennies in a sculpture. There was another bear and a goose. And then this year they also completed an eagle that has pennies, nickels and quarters for feathers.
The Penny Bear came to Tahoe City via the assistance of Tahoe Public Art, as well as through the efforts of a number of local Tahoe burners who were impressed with the bear when they saw her at Burning Man. The project was originally created through a grant from the Burning Man Arts organization and hundreds of dollars of pennies were donated to the project by the artists friends.
Pick a nice sunny day and wander down to the Heritage Plaza in the center of Tahoe City. There the mamma bear and her cubs sit proudly in the midst of a grassy circle surrounded by walkways. Behind the bear, Lake Tahoe can be seen filtered through the trees. I found it interesting to walk around the bear several times to catch her from all directions, and of course to get up close to see the intricate detail of the individual pennies attached to the sculpture. Bring a lunch and enjoy the sunshine and quietly thank the artists and those interested in art that have brought this bear to Tahoe City. It can’t help but make you smile.