Seven years ago, on a trip to Toronto I decided to spend a very hard day at the Toronto Zoo. My daughter and I were in Toronto while she was in a beauty pageant, I was there to support her and see her compete, but for most of the 10 days I was by myself. The second anniversary of my husband’s death was looming over me while we were there. On the anniversary day I decided to keep myself busy and spent the day at the Toronto Zoo.
My purpose to go to the zoo was to see the pandas, I had heard they were on loan from China, and this was a perfect opportunity to get some great photos and maybe even do an oil painting of them, but being a bit directly challenged I ended up getting lost at the zoo and couldn’t find the pandas, but even better, I found the polar bears. It was exciting to see three of them bobbing around in the water eating their lunch, but to be honest, watching a polar bear eat lettuce is only exciting for so long. I left their area and ventured out looking for those darn pandas.
I took in almost all the zoo that day, even finding the pandas, who were sound asleep, a little disappointing for sure, but there were lots of other interesting animals to check out. I found a sleeping cougar, a sleeping grizzly bear, a wide-awake giraffe, and lots of other animals in a various degree of wakefulness.
As the end of the day was approaching and I was ready to head back to the hotel, I had this weird sensation come over me. I can’t quite describe it; it was this intense desire to go back to the polar bear habitat, immediately. I started to walk in their direction which was on the other side of the zoo from where I was, a least I thought it was. I took a trolley car part way, walked a lot, and then started to run. Yes, run! I’m sure people wondered what this crazy woman with 30 pounds of camera equipment was doing running through the zoo. Okay, so I didn’t really run too far, but I was in a hurry!
When I came upon the Polar Bear habitat, I went directly down to the underground observation area where you could see them swimming under the water. I had butterflies in my stomach and a need to get to the window fast. I quickly approached, got my camera ready to take some great photos and looked through the thick glass, what did I see? Nothing, not a, nothing, no polar bears……I was the only person in the observation area, and I waited, nothing. I felt a tad bit foolish and decided I needed to leave when suddenly a polar bear dove into the pool and swam towards me. He stopped at the window and just stared, I stared back, and we locked eyes for what seemed like a long time. He then put his huge paw on the window, shoved off and swam to the other end of the pool. He got out and walked back to where he previously jumped in. Again, he dove into the pool and swam up to the window, again we locked eyes, he again pushed off the window and continued this routine. I was really enjoying the bond I was feeling with the polar bear when people started to enter the observation area. Reluctantly, I thought I should move back a bit and let others have a look. He did the routine a few more times as the people crowded around the windows, but never stopped and stared, just pushed off and swam back to the end of the pool.
When I was looking at the bear, I got chills and a feeling that my husband was close by, the other time this happened was when I swam with a turtle in Hawaii a few months after he died, but this was different. There was a different purpose behind this feeling, with the turtle I knew I needed to get back to the easel, with the polar bear I knew there was more to it than that, I just didn’t know what. One thing I knew is that I had to paint this bear immediately. As soon as I got back to the hotel, I took out the acrylic paints and small canvas I brought and started painting a small study. It took a few days to finish, but once it was done, I knew this was only the beginning and this painting needed to be big.
Getting Closer Study 2014
When I got back to St. Albert I bought a large canvas, 36” x 48” and started painting an oil painting of this beautiful bear. When I finished him, I decided to call him “Getting Closer” for several reasons, one was the obvious to me, he was getting closer to me physically at the zoo, but I also felt he was getting closer to my heart, there was something that had enter my life through that experience that I knew was going to make a difference in my life in some way. I also felt my husband closer; again, he was encouraging me and cheering me on, telling me to get busy and keep doing what I was doing, what I was meant to do.
I truly believe things happen for a reason and some of those things have a huge ripple effect in our lives, this has been one of those things. For the painting itself it has been a big success in so many ways, not only the joy it brought me to paint it and to share with others, but also for the attention and awards it has received. This painting, this experience has been the catapult for the start and the continuation of my series “The Polar Bear”, one that has been a huge success artistically but also spiritually.
I'm still not sure how this series will make it's impact, it's popular for sure and I am always thinking about the next painting. I do hope that it will be able to help bring notice to the polar bear, maybe in some small way help bring attention to their plight, in some way to make a difference.
Sometimes, I can't believe its only been seven years since I started the series. The painting has been in a number of shows, has won awards and hangs in my own collection.
36" x 48"
Oil on Canvas
NFS - Artist Collection