Saturday, February 27, 2016

About Polar Bears

Today is International Polar Bear Day. As far as I can tell, this is a "holiday" created and promoted by Polar Bears International, a conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of polar bears and the environment in which they live.

I've always been a fan of bears, beginning with my well-worn childhood teddy bears. I had two. A very small one I must have received as an infant that I literally hugged to pieces, and a larger one that I managed to keep intact until I was about 17. For the life of me I cannot remember their names. I know they had names because I always name my stuffed animals. My brothers started giving me teddy bears for birthdays and Christmas in my early 20s; my husband added books and I've purchased a few small bears myself, so now I have quite a collection. These furry, sometimes well-dressed, creatures live on my bookshelves. And lest you imagine a few tidy bookcases in a den or study upon which sit an equally tidy row of small stuffed bears, think again. I'm an academic. There are bookcases in the entryway, bookcases in the living room, bookcases in the large unnameable room on the other side of our kitchen bar that, while it does contain our large kitchen table, also has a desk, love seat, easy chair, end table, and exercise bike, bookcase on the landing going up to the second floor, bookcases in the bedroom, bookcases in the tv room, bookcases in my office, and a host of bookcases in the basement family room. Teddy bears can be found both upstairs and downstairs. I keep a couple of especially cuddly ones on the lower shelves of one of the family room bookcases so they are within easy reach of the great-grandchildren. They know where they are, particularly the three- and four-year olds. My fascination with teddy bears led me to the Teddy Bear Museum of Stratford-upon-Avon in England in the early 1990s. Some of this collection is now housed at the Polka Theatre in London, but there is also a Teddy Bear Museum in Dorset that has a wonderful collection, including a 1906 bear created on the original 1902 US pattern by Morris and Rose Michtom: "Teddy's Bear." Their website includes a short history of the origins of the teddy bear.
I'm a fan of real life bears, as well, and the Bell Library collection of which I am curator, contains several images of polar bears, in addition to narrative accounts of them. This image of a polar bear diving into the water was captured from our collection to use on our December open house invitations a few years ago. What we cropped out of it was the boatload of men aiming rifles at the bear, about to make his escape. The first recorded sighting of the polar bear was in 1556 by British navigator William Burrough(1537-1598). Nearly 30 years later, another British expedition led by John Davis (1550?-1605), searching for the Northwest Passage, saw four polar bears on what is now Baffin Island, just north of the Arctic Circle in 1585.
Captain Cook and the crew of his third voyage (ca. 1777, northern Pacific) encountered polar bears, as well. Artist John Webber captured this polar bear; the image was published in James Cook, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean. London: G. Nicol and T. Cadell, 1785. The James Ford Bell Library has an extensive collection of published Cook material; many of the volumes are lavishly illustrated.

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