Out of the Woods

Big Projects, Beginning to End, Dirty, Filthy Fun, Inspiration, News from the Shop, Out of the Woods

What a very exciting September I’ve had and a perfect way to begin October! I just completed this full-size bear sculpture, called Out of the Woods, which is now installed at the Brick City Gallery in Ocala, where you can drop in to check it out anytime this October. This art show is organized by the Florida Artists Blacksmith Association in conjuncture with their annual Blacksmithing Conference (which is right around the corner! Oct 11-13) . Because I will be teaching a class at this year’s conference I am able to show work alongside several very talented blacksmiths! The work I saw  during install blew my mind. I’d really recommend dropping by this show if you appreciate good craftsmanship married with creativity. The big opening night will be this Friday from 6-9 and we’ll be forging on-site, so come hang out with us if you’re in the Ocala or Gainesville area!

Out of the Woods by Leslie Tharp

Out of the Woods by Leslie Tharp


A little back story on the bear

The intrigue of this animal hit me like a ton of bricks last year when I discovered the Alachua County Fair would include a performing bear- advertised as able to do many tricks including drinking Mountain Dew. I don’t know about you, but that really surprised me. Aren’t performing animals a little old school? Here in Gainesville, don’t we want to cultivate and pass on to our youth an appreciation and respect for animals and nature? Apparently not. I thought we were better than that and made an offer to the City of Gainesville, published in the Gainesville Sun, that I would gladly build them a sculpture of a bear in exchange for a stop to this outdated animal entertainment. You can read my full proposal here. They didn’t accept my offer, but hey maybe they will when they see this sweet sculpture!

My outrage of that event ignited my interest in our society’s view of predators and how they have been portrayed as villians for ever and ever and ever. You can point to nearly every species of predators and note a time (for many, it’s now) when they have been hunted nearly to extinction. The predator – as – villain scenario fuels great drama! Children’s books, TV shows, Movies, etc. It’s intriguing. We love to be scared! Bundled in our cozy, climate controlled houses we love to imagine we are threatened. This fear instinct drives many things beyond our view of the natural world- as anyone who watches the nightly news can attest to- but it certainly effects our relationship with nature- conquer or be conquered. And specifically it influences the way we view the bear.

Alright, so I’m sure you’re thinking “yeah, yeah, we know, we know”, well here’s what really drove it home for me. A few months ago I went on a little backpacking trip with my boyfriend, to the Lake Placid, NY area. I will note here that that area is full of bears. We had planned a casual 3 day hike through the woods, beginning in one town and arriving in the next, for our vacation time this year. Sounds like fun right? My boyfriend insisted it would be.  So we loaded our (way overloaded) packs with yummy foods, warm, dry clothes and two bear canisters. We rented these canisters from a little hiking store near the trail, and the woman at the store was kind enough to explain the technology behind the canister’s smooth and effective design. “The bears don’t have anything to grip, so they can’t open them. They’ll kick them around all night, playing with them like a ball, but in the morning you’ll be able to track down where they’ve been left and your food will still be inside!”. Well that was unsettling. Would our camp site turn into a soccer field once the sun had set? I was starting have second thoughts about this trip. Off we went into the woods, walking with our overloaded packs through mud and leaves, up and down little hills, through a thick forest. Along the way, I was searching the still woods for signs of bears- tracks, scratched trunks, droppings, any signs that would confirm my impending death. Nothing! But I was sure it was there, I just wasn’t looking closely enough. We arrived at our lean-to 7 miles later with sore feet and sore backs. The rules in bear country are every strict- you can’t carry food in your pockets (this was upsetting, I love smuggling snackies), you must cook away from your camp and eat/ drink everything- even the water you boil your pasta in and the water you rinse your plate with. Then you must load up all food and drink and anything that has a scent on it- deodorant, lotion, sunscreen- into the bear canisters and walk at least 200 yards away from camp to leave it there for the night. After following these strict rules and triple checking all my pockets for anything that would lead a bear’s nose to my sleeping bag- it was time for shut eye. HA, yeah right. Yours truly stayed manically awake the WHOLE night, ready at a second’s notice to bang pots and pans to ward off  approaching predators. To say the very least I found myself caught up in the predator-as-villain scenario, dragging my poor, sleepless, hiking partner into the story with me. The next day I refused to go forward and insisted it was time for us to hike out of the woods!

So my friends, that is the story of the bear, Out of the Woods. The subject has perplexed me on many levels as I have found myself disgusted by society’s fear and objectification of these large mammals, while myself being utterly fearful! I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring this animal, philosophically and physically this last month and look forward to the development of this exploration in my work. I hope I’ve been able to share that enjoyment with you!

Scroll down to see some in shop progress photos.


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I create large metal sculptures for public art, smaller items for you and your home, and teach hands on metal workshops in Gainesville, FL. Visit LeslieTharp.com