Ursa Ravus

Ursa Ravus with her patrons and creators, Robert Ferguson, artist, Judy and Steven Gluckstern, and Lisa Ferguson, artist. (Courtesy photo)

Look out! There’s a 6,000-pound grizzly bear — Ursa Ravus — looming 15 skyward at 635 East Colorado Avenue. The Gluckstern family commissioned Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson Art of Hayward, California, to build and install the original sculpture, the first sanctioned public art installation in Telluride.  

It took self-taught artists Lisa and Robert Ferguson four months to build Ursa Ravus whose “fur” is comprised of over 187,000 pennies.

“Each penny is unique, each has a story,” said the artists in their application to Telluride own council’s Public Art Commission (PAC). “They are pleasant to draw fingers over. They make a sound. They may even feel warm in the afternoon sun.” 

The artists describe Ursa Ravus as a “grizzly bear reaching up to a tree for fruit; a metaphor about ambition, reaching to the sky above to the constellations of Ursa Major and Minor, the big and little bears.”

Recognizing a dearth of public art in Telluride, Steven and Judy Gluckstern wanted to donate artwork that the public could access and enjoy. Longtime patrons of local culture, the Glucksterns moved to Telluride in 1980 so that Steven could serve as the school district’s superintendent for a year. Together with Wendy Brooks, Steven founded Telluride Academy and he and Judy were important contributors to the Michael D. Palm Theater in honor of their late friend. 

The initial idea for the bear sculpture came from the Gluckstern’s annual family pilgrimage to the Burning Man Festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada where Judy and Steven are known as Mama Bear and Papa Bear.

In 2016 there were 250 pieces of art strewn across the desert — some little, some gigantic — most made of wood to be burned. Among the artwork was the Ferguson’s first bear sculpture — not Ursa Ravus, but her original twin, Ursa Major.

“We’re so used to all the digital stuff but this was just a bear, made of pennies,” recalled Judy. “And people really responded to the simplicity of it.”

Upon returning to their home in Santa Fe, the Glucksterns bought the sculpture and had it installed at the foot of their driveway.

About seven or eight months later, the Fergusons received a call from the Smithsonian Museum who was hosting an exhibition called “Burning Man — No Spectators.”

“Lisa and Robert came to Santa Fe and put the bear back on the trailer and drove it to Washington D.C.,” recounted Steven. “Where she stood outside on 19th Street — along with five other outdoor pieces — for nine months.”

The Glucksterns decided to commission another bear — Ursa Ravus — with the intention of sharing it as public art in Telluride just as the PAC — comprised of five regular members and two alternates — was formed in the spring of 2018.

According to the town’s Historic Preservation Director, Jonna Wensel, the inaugural 2017 Ghost Town mural, “We the People: Defend Dignity,” sparked conversation about public art, which “helped Town Council decide what should be subject to a review process and what shouldn’t and what that process should be.”

While there have been other works of public art approved by Town Council — the bike path murals in 2003 and 2010 and the sculpture of “Sophia” at the high school bus stop in 2004 — Wensel says Steven chose to wait for the new PAC process to be established.

“In that way, I think that the Glucksterns and the bear sculpture have paved the way for future public art proposals,” said Wensel.

Initially, the Glucksterns wanted to locate the bear in a stand of trees along the River Trail — a bear looking up Bear Creek — and applied to the PAC who unanimously approved the project.

However, it was determined that the approved piece of land actually fell within the Parks and Recreation corridor so the Glucksterns re-applied to the Parks and Recreation board who voted unanimously against the project, citing the large scale of the sculpture and pointing out that there are no grizzlies in Colorado.

Because the front yards of homes lining East Colorado Avenue are technically situated on town land, the Glucksterns decided that locating the bear on their side-yard, also owned by town, still qualifies Ursa Ravus as public art. Upon applying for installation a third time, the PAC once again voted unanimously in favor of the project under a five-year contract.

“Not everyone who has come by here has liked the art,” Steven said. “The purpose of public art is not to be loved by everyone. Art is supposed to cause you to think. To have a reaction.”

He believes that in the same way town supports recreation leagues, it should develop a public art budget.

“As is, you don’t see public art here,” Steven said. “I think it’s something that should be prioritized. That’s the hope.”

In the meantime, the Glucksterns and the Fergusons hope that Ursa Ravus will be well-visited by the residents of and visitors to Telluride.

“She can be one of the stops on the Telluride tour,” said Lisa. “And maybe even a mascot.”