Paris Crawls With Statuary
and Behind Every One...

jardin des plantes
To find the bear, turn right just before the popcorn wagon.

There May Be Another

eMail from Ron Roizen, via the Internet
Dear Ric -

Wallace, Idaho:- Tuesday, 17. March 1998:- Ever walk by a big statue of an Indian fighting off a she-bear with cubs in the Jardin des Plantes? Impressive thing. I saw it only once, in the summer of 1975.

I'd stopped over for a couple of days in Paris to see my friends, Charles and Maggie. I was on the way back to California from a conference in Helsinki.

I arrived in the evening, bushed, and after a quick dinner they put me to bed in their spare room. It had one little window, through which was a lovely view of Paris rooftops. What is it about looking out over Paris's rooftops, anyway? I don't know but I still remember it felt really good - medieval and lonely and cozy all at the same time.

Next morning after coffee and croissants, they invited me out for a walk, saying they had a surprise for me. After a few blocks, the three of us were standing in front of a statue. It's a big and bold piece of work, a wonderful example of the French fascination with the American West and the realistic style that was popular - I don't know - in the late 19th or early 20th century.

We looked at it for a bit and then one of them asked me if I recognized it.

"No. Should I?"

"Are you sure you don't recognize it?"

I looked again and said, no - sorry.

They explained that it was a dead ringertilden bear for a statue in Berkeley, right at the entrance to the quad of the California School for the Deaf - which, my being a longtime Berkeleyan - they rather thought I'd have seen.

This is Douglas Tilden's statue at the School for the Deaf in Berkeley.

I hadn't. I promised to check it out when I got home. We didn't stay much longer. I made a note of the sculptor's name - Fremiet - and took three or four pictures of it from different angles, to be able to compare to the one in Berkeley.

They were a little disappointed, I guess. But hell, they knew I wasn't much of an art buff, and the visit went on fine from there.

Back in Berkeley, as soon as the pictures were developed, I took them over to the Deaf School for a look at the sister piece. It, too, was magnificent, and boldly similar to its French lookalike, but also different.

Both were scenes of a she-bear with cubs attacking a human figure - but the Berkeley piece was a trapper rather than an Indian, and the action was different.

Berkeley's piece was signed by a celebrated turn-of-the-century California sculptor, Douglas Tilden whose name I knew from the lovely statue, 'The Football Players,' which sits on the University's campus next to the Life Sciences Building.

Glancing at the photos and then looking at the Berkeley statue in front of me, they were still damn similar, and similar enough to pose the mystery of why.

A couple of days later I called the De Young Museum in San Francisco and asked that question of a curator. I was lucky enough to be passed along to Mildred Albronda, Tilden's biographer.

No, she said, she didn't know of the Fremiet statue. Could I send her copies of the photos?

After kicking around the possibilities for a while, Ms. Albronda offered a speculation about the similarity - a possible scenario. She started with a little history of the man himself.

Douglas Tilden, 1860-1935, was deaf and dumb, as a result of childhood scarlet fever. As a young man, after graduation from the California School for the Deaf, he became interested in sculpture and showed considerable promise - enough for the CSD to offer what Tilden took to be a scholarship, for study in New York and Paris.

He went to New York in 1887. After going on to Paris in 1888, he studied under the deaf sculptor, Paul Choppin. He possibly studied under or with Fremiet as well.

In 1889 Tilden's statue, 'The Baseball Player,' was accepted by the prestigious Salon des Artistes Français on the Champs-Elysées. This statue is now in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

Tilden returned from Paris and established himself as San Francisco's - even California's - leading sculptor by the turn of the century. Among his other notable works is 'The Mechanics,' a handsome and familiar bronze piece showing men at work at a printing press.

At some point along the way, however, the Deaf School asked Tilden to repay 'the loan' he'd been granted for his New York and Paris studies. Tilden objected, saying money had been a scholarship, not a loan. The case went to court, and Tilden lost.

"But the artist," Ms. Albronda said, "May have gotten the last word anyhow."

Tilden paid off the CSD debt with one of his statues - indeed, the very same trapper-and-bears piece that my friends had grown so fond of and recalled when they looked at Fremiet's similar statue in the Jardin des Plantes.

And so Ms. Albronda offered a theory. Based on the discovery of Fremiet's piece, she guessed that maybe Tilden gave CSD one of his student efforts, something not quite original but instead either modelled on Fremiet's statue or based on a common source both Fremiet and he had worked from.

I could almost see a twinkle in Mildred's eye as she related this theory. Tilden probably figured they'd never the wiser and would be happy in any case to get such a dramatic and fine example of the great sculptor's work.


Ron Roizen©1998. Photo of bear statue by Douglas Tilden used by permission.

The Big Bear Hunt
Bonjour Ron -

Paris:- Wednesday, 18. March 1998:- In answer to to your question - no, I have never walked past a statue of a bear fighting with an Indian, in the Jardin des Plantes.

That is, not until today, when I walked all over the the sizeable gardens looking for it. A man with a little boy, going into the zoo, told me where to find it.

"Just down there and turn to the right," turned out to be a 10 minute walk. The weather was playing at being spring again and it wasn't too much of an extra hardship.

In case anybody else wants to see it, coming in from the placefremiet bear Valhubert, turn right before the popcorn wagon and walk a few metres to a children's play area. Going the other way, go down the left-hand Allée Centrale and turn left at the end, before the gates.

The statue is not as big as I thought it would be. The figures must be about life-sized. The bear-cub has a European-style dagger in it and the Indian - if that is what he is - looks like he's in trouble with mama bear.

And this is Emmanuel Fremiet's statue in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

I have a theory for Ms. Albronda. Suppose it was Tilden who gave the bear idea to Fremiet? I imagine that bears and Indians were still pretty common in California in the 1890's, although there probably wouldn't have been many trappers around.

I wonder why the statue isn't closer to the bear pit in the zoo, which can be seen from the path right outside it. Where it is now, it might give kids bad dreams - but by the zoo it could be a useful warning.

Since I've given the Jardin des Plantes my usual once-over during this bear hunt, you'll find out a bit more about it in 'A Park Full of Old Everything' elsewhere in this issue.

The California School for the Deaf has been kind enough to let me re-run a photo of their bear statue by Douglas Tilden, so readers can return the favor by giving their Web site a look.

Regards, Ric

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