Supporters of a beaver statue that was banned from Bemidji's downtown Sculpture Walk are up in arms this weekend. The statue, painted by Blackduck artist Deborah A. Davis, was removed from its location at Fourth Street and Beltrami Avenue on Thursday. Bemidji City Manager John Chattin said he made the decision to remove it after receiving about 20 complaints from people who considered it to be pornographic.
Much of Saturday's cyber conversation about the statue took place on Facebook. A new page titled "Bring back Gaea to the Bemidji Sculpture Walk!" was created on Friday shortly after news of the removal surfaced.
A story and photo of the statue in Saturday's Bemidji Pioneer and on the bemidjipioneer.com website brought even more attention to the issue. The Pioneer's website also created a poll asking whether the statue should be returned to downtown Bemidji. As of 10 p.m. Sunday, 239 readers voted yes, 57 voted no and 8 said they were not sure.
Nine beavers are included in this year's Bemidji Sculpture Walk. They are unique in that all were based on the same 4-foot-tall beaver "blanks," plain fiberglass forms. The project was made possible due to a grant from the George W. Neilson Foundation.
Davis' statue, named "Gaea," featured forms of the female body and natural elements including a tree and flower. The focal point of the front of the sculpture, located on the belly portion of the beaver, is a human figure rising from a sea of pinkish-red circles.
Davis the artist visited the Facebook site Sunday morning and said she was encouraged to see all of the support. She wrote:
"Wow... just found the site. I've been working solid for 2 days. I haven't been on FB much. Wow. Bless you all. Wow! I hope they let Gaea come home. YOU are all my home, and happy hope, restores my faith in what I've always hung onto: PEOPLE ARE GOOD, AND THEY DO CARE! Thank you!!!!!"
Part of the discussion on Facebook included ways supporters could voice their displeasure with the decision to ban the statue. Some of the artists who painted the other eight beavers in the project said they would consider covering their statues in protest. Later Saturday night, a Facebook poster wrote that five or six artists will place cloaks over their statues. "Some will bring black cloth, others burlap, some will be cloaking for some of us who are out of town, but want to show support," the poster wrote. "I think the consensus is cloak with whatever you desire. The more support, the better."
At least two of the beavers were "cloaked" on Sunday morning, according to comments on the Facebook page.
There also was talk of trying to have "Gaea" placed on a float for Sunday's Fourth of July parade in downtown Bemidji. But that will not happen, according to a reply from Sculpture Walk organizer Al Belleveau.
Much of the online discussion centered around censorship of art. One of the commenters wrote:
"Art is interpretive. It's meant to be seen in many ways and as many different things. How sad that a sculpture is remove for what someone sees in it... removed for being a true piece of art. Perhaps, from a psychological standpoint, someone should ask the complainers why they are against the idea of a female caretaker ..."
Others said the city has more important issues to deal with. One person wrote: "...this is ridiculous. i just don't get pornographic out of this. too strange. and, seriously, time spent censoring art is time spent not fixing homelessness and healthcare in bemidji."
Supporters plan to address the Bemidji City Council during its Tuesday evening meeting.
As of 10 p.m. Sunday, 589 users indicated they "like" the Facebook page. In Facebook terms, that means they support the effort to bring the statue back.