Precision math, long hours in the scorching summer heat and the creative mind of Bryan Massey are on display as a 15-foot-long, eight-feet-wide and approximately three-thousand-pound stainless steel bear. It’s an imposing work of art to behold—one you will see hanging from the side of the University of Central Arkansas’ new Donaghey Hall. Massey, Professor of Art/Sculpture at UCA, originally didn’t know who commissioned him for the project. Through a national search, he was ultimately selected to create a contemporized sculpture of the school’s mascot, the black bear. And the process, from conception to installation, involves some pretty interesting details.
Massey and his two assistants, Sara Shumaker and Kaylee DeWees, first made a mock wall of 4x4s and plywood to the size and scale of the actual wall where the bear would hang. From there, he created an outline of the bear, then the armature, or skeleton, of the sculpture. Massey, Shumaker and DeWees used their math skills to create 160 panels from corrugated board, commonly called cardboard. This part of the process allowed Massey and his team to formulate the correct shapes and sizes before welding steel onto the skeleton.
Here’s where forces beyond his control came into play.
“We had to rely on good weather to complete the project because we were building the sculpture outside,” Massey said. The sculpture took nine months to complete, through winter, which was relatively mild, spring and the brutal heat of the summer. “We had only a couple of rain delays, but we dreaded working during the summer. So we changed our schedules and started work during the summer months at 5:30 a.m. and would end the day at around 11:30 or noon,” Massey said. “We had big fans, but they were moving hot air, and even though we would set up a tent to cover us, there’s not much you can do to beat Arkansas heat,” Massey now cheerfully recalls.
With mostly tolerable weather and twelve-to-fifteen hour work days, Massey and his assistants were able to finish six months ahead of the projected completion date. On October 22, “Otis the Bear” was unveiled to cheers and applause. Massey named the bear after one of his favorite characters from The Andy Griffith Show, the bumbling, town drunk portrayed by the actor Hal Smith. “I thought that if a bear was gonna try to climb a building it would have to be intoxicated,” Massey joked.
Although Massey rarely sees his stunning creation now that it’s complete, that’s perfectly fine by him. “I’ve seen enough of that bear.” He said his wife is also glad the project is complete. “I promised her I’d take some time off, so I’m going to rest over the winter break.” Massey must also wear an arm sling for six weeks to help repair an injury he sustained before beginning the project. “Back in January, my doctor told me I needed to rest my arm, and I told him, ‘I don’t think I can do that right now, doc.’ But, I’ll be pulling the sling out of the box soon. It’s still got that new car smell.”