With Whistler's popular population of black bears expected to emerge from their winter slumbers anytime now, the Whistler Arts Council (WAC) is hoping to draw attention to the importance of the animals with a new bear-specific exhibit.
Called Wild in Whistler, the new exhibit is now on at the Scotia Creek Gallery in Millennium Place featuring bear-specific works by a variety of local artists. One such artist is the Get Bear Smart Society's executive director, Sylvia Dolson, who has three photographs in the exhibit.
"I think that sometimes through pictures you're able to reconnect or connect people to wildlife and the wilderness," explained Dolson. "Some people don't have the opportunity to spend time in the company of bears, then hopefully photographs are the next best thing."
But it's perhaps Dolson's particular subject that will draw people's attention, as she features the late Jeanie, Whistler's most famous bear, who was put down in October. For Dolson, the exhibit is a chance to show people a side of Jeanie that others may not have been able to experience.
"Some of the images I've been able to capture are because of my close relationship with Jeanie," explained Dolson, who spent 15 years observing and photographing the bear. "She trusted me and I was able to capture a lot of photographs. She didn't run off, she stayed."
Dolson said it was difficult to pick just three images out of the hundreds she's accumulated of the bear over the years, but she ultimately settled on a few of Jeanie and her cubs.
"I have tons and tons of images of her. She was my No. 1 subject because she was so tolerant of my presence and especially with her young cubs. It's very difficult to photograph a bear with her spring cubs," explained Dolson. "Jeanie was always tolerant, but her cubs were often scared. But when they get a little bit older and learn to take direction from their mom then it becomes easier because their mother is trusting of certain individuals."
One of the photos is of Jeanie with her last cub, Jeanette - an image that was also turned into a pencil-and-ink drawing by local artist Mary-Jane Glover-Moffett that is featured alongside Dolson's images.
Being fairly new to Whistler, Glover-Moffett found herself captivated by the close relationship between the town and its bears, and being an artist for most of her life, she chose to channel that interest in her drawings.
"I just love wildlife and so when I realized I could see the bears and do as much as I wanted with the bears I got really excited about it and so I started watching them," explained Glover-Moffett. "I get a great kick out of their sense of humour, if you want to call it that. They have these little quirks."
Along with her Jeanie image, Glover-Moffett has several other bear-inspired drawings on display, varying from wrestling cubs to stoic close-ups of the animals.
Ultimately, Glover-Moffett said she hopes people will come away from the exhibit with a greater appreciation for the animals, which she sees as a quintessential part of Whistler.
"I'd hate to see them go. I think it's fun for everyone to live around them, but people need to be more aware of how to treat them and behave around them so I thought this would be a great way to make people more aware," she said.
The Wild in Whistler exhibit runs until April 10 at the Scotia Creek Gallery in Millennium Place. Admission is free. A complimentary reception is also planned next Thursday (April 5) from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Additionally, proceeds from the sale of Dolson's images and Glover-Moffett's Jeanie drawing will go to the Get Bear Smart Society.