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Dean Drever Sculpture


After two years on the road, bear sculpture settles down in Epcor Tower lobby

EDMONTON - The first two years of her life were unstable, tough. She was born in a tavern in upstate New York. Shipped off to the other side of the continent, all alone, in the back of a truck. Left to wonder if anyone would ever love her.

The unpredictability of those early years took their toll. The creature won't speak, or move, and at more than five tonnes, she's a little on the heavy side. A crane was required to haul her into her permanent home, the Epcor Tower downtown.

The stainless steel Kodiak bear appears at peace now, silently standing guard in the lobby of the new highrise, which opened in September. Bear with Salmon, as she is known, is as formidable as she is stoic: twice as large as an actual Kodiak, a type of grizzly bear that lives in southwestern Alaska. Standing three metres, the sow commands respect, even a hint of fear, as she emerges from a glass waterfall, a pink fish clamped in her mighty jaws.

Dean Drever, an Edmonton-born sculptor, created the work as part of his creative explorations of violence, power and anger. The 41-year-old often works with ready-made objects such as guns, baseball bats and wrenches, modifying them with paint and engraved words. He also creates sculptures from new materials; a recent work is a Ku Klux Klan member in regalia built of stacked paper, the ideology and costume that defines him ironically flammable.

"The bear seems like a natural place to go," Drever says, in reference to the concepts he works with and the bear's place of authority in the natural world.

Drever has worked with the bear motif before. He created a sleuth of bright orange bears from stone composite, which spent time in the Toronto Sculpture Garden. Now, those bears will live in various Canadian consulates.

"It's important to me when I make a bear that it's a happy bear," Drever explains from Toronto, where he lives. The Epcor Tower sculpture "is not an aggressive bear. I think bears have a bad rap."

Bear with Salmon's gaze is steely and serene. She was cast at a foundry in Rock Tavern, N.Y., the only place in North America that can do such a job, according to Drever. The sculpture started as 17 pieces of metal, each poured two to five centimetres thick and welded together once solidified.

Bronze would have been easier, cheaper, the artist explains, but it didn't feel right. "My work has always been concerned with white metal, shiny things, pristine things."

Qualico, the developer that owns the building, had reserved a portion of the lobby for some sort of artwork but hadn't yet decided what to install. Then, Drever sent them a large-scale pencil sketch of the bear.

"You're not quite sure what the right thing is until someone shows it to you," says Ken Cantor, Qualico's commercial manager. "We hadn't gone to him. We didn't have a budget. It was just: this is reeeeeally interesting." The bear's connections with power and water fit perfectly with Epcor's core business as a utility company, he explains. Qualico commissioned the artwork for $2.5 million.

"We're just in love with it," Cantor says.

Anyone who walks into the Epcor Tower can see Bear with Salmon, but they won't hear her. Drever decided against a real waterfall. "I hate noisy waterfalls. You're standing there looking at the bear and can't even hear the person talking to you."

Getting the sculpture into the tower required planning, Cantor says. Qualico couldn't install the curtain wall for the building until Bear with Salmon was in. She entered via a nine-by-nine-metre hole along the west wall in a move that took an entire day. "We said, 'Dean, this is a piece of stature. We think it will end up with a reputation, not unlike Bill Reid's Haida Gwaii.' "

The sculpture isn't quite complete. "Salmon" is plural; six more fish have yet to be installed in the glass around the bear's front paws.

That Bear with Salmon lives on the fringes of Edmonton's inner city, an area marked by the same sort of violence and power Drever explores with his work, is purely coincidence, says the artist.

"I grew up in Edmonton and it's hard to think of any of it as that rough," Drever says. "It's pretty all right down there still."

Spatial Thoughts on Sculpture by Bill West
Dean Drever has to be walking on air - actually not only creating, but having the vision to master a bear in such monumentality and made of metal! When I first saw the pictures of this sculpture, I knew immediately this was an important piece. Edmonton is definitely on my calendar so to speak...

Dean Drever Sculpture
Sculpture of a Kodiak bear with a Salmon in its mouth, Bear with Salmon, in the lobby of the new Epcor Tower in Edmonton. Photograph by: Shaughn Butts

Dean Drever Sculpture
Sculpture of a Kodiak Bear with a Salmon in its mouth , "Bear with Salmon", in the lobby of the new Epcor Tower in Edmonton. Photograph by: Shaughn Butts,

Dean Drever Sculpture
Dean Drever and his sculpture, Bear with Salmon.