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Grizzly Bear by Strawberry Creek.
Grizzly Bear by Strawberry Creek, across from Cal Band headquarters. Raymond Puccinelli. Installed 1955. Gift of O.J. Woodward II, Class of 1930. Erica Nordmeier photo.

UC Berkeley bear hunt yields grizzly art, from silly to sublime
05 August 2002

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - En route to football games at Memorial Stadium, members of the Cal Marching Band pause to rub the nose of the statue of a very small bear near the banks of Strawberry Creek.

They say it's good luck and a great tradition at the University of California, Berkeley, which boasts as its official mascot a chubby bear named "Oski."

"The bear sculpture in question is really convenient to the Band Rehearsal Hall, and it has a nicely rounded nose," said Barbara Goodson, a 1981 UC Berkeley graduate and a former French horn player with the band. "So once you've put on your uniform, including gloves, and are heading out to start the performance day, filing past the bear and rubbing its nose makes you feel you've performed an important ritual.

"So what if it doesn't work? And by that I mean it won't make the team win the game. Nowadays, perhaps rubbing the bear's nose means you won't lose your hat during pre-game, or something else."

Mike Yambrovich, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1983 and played trombone and sousaphone with the Cal Band, said he takes his children by the bear when they're on campus so they can rub its shiny nose.

Affection for bears has grown to such proportions at UC Berkeley that its Visitor Services office developed a bear tour for special occasions such as Cal Day in April.

A guide to 27 bear images - most of them statues - on and near campus will distributed at "Bear in Mind," an Aug. 26-Nov. 27 exhibit at UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library that salutes the California grizzly bear. The works of art were not part of a campus plan - rather, they were donated to the campus over the years out of a general fondness for the animal.

The guide will include:

* The "Great Bear Bell" in the tower of the Campanile. Weighing 5.5 tons, it features artist Ruth Asawa's bas-relief carvings of young bears. The bell tolls the hour and faces the constellation Ursa Major, or "Greater Bear," that is The Big Dipper.

* Two small stone bears, their heads bowed in grief, carved on the back of a bench near the bell tower. The bench is a memorial to the UC Berkeley alumni and others who fought in World War I.

* "Les Bears," a bronze sculpture by Dan Ostermiller of two cheerful bears. They sit back-to-back near the top of the main courtyard of the Haas School of Business.

* A set of 12 small bronze bears on the handles of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union and a wooden carving of bears on the exterior wall of the nearby Bear's Lair food court.

* A wooden bear, carved by chainsaw from a massive log by a Bay Area artist for the culmination of a fall 2000 freshman seminar on "Woodsculpting and Related Art." It later was installed on the 7th floor of Davis Hall.

* A bear mural at Edwards Stadium, painted in 1933 by Dale Bogasky and measuring approximately five by seven feet.

* A topiary bear outside the north entrance to Alumni House.

* Bronze Russian black bear sculptures on the terrace between the Bechtel Engineering Center and O'Brien Hall. They were created originally by beaux-arts sculptor Edmund Schultz Beckum about 1915, commissioned by a Russian insurance company and installed first at the company's U.S. headquarters in Connecticut. When the headquarters were demolished, a UC Berkeley alumnus acquired the bears and donated them to the campus in 1987.

* A 10-foot-tall bear sculpture on a stone and concrete pedestal northwest of Memorial Stadium and visible to many game-goers.

* A professionally stuffed and mounted bear encased in glass near the southwestern entrance to the Bear's Lair. Though ragged and worn, it is said to have been the last live mascot at UC Berkeley. It once lived in the basement of Chi Phi fraternity and was stolen in 1986. It surfaced a short time later - handcuffed to a water fountain along San Francisco's Embarcadero and dressed in a Stanford University T-shirt.