Born May 1, 1860 Douglas Tilden lost his hearing at the age of 4 due to Scarlet Fever. Two years later his parents enrolled Douglas at the California School for the Deaf at UC Berkeley. He became an honor student and graduated from the school in 1879 at the age of 19. He soon accepted a teaching position CSD where he stayed there for eight years. It was during the summer vacations his artistic talents began to flourish.
Summer vacations were spent studying drawing and painting. In the summer of 1883, he discovered the joys of sculpture. He returned to teaching in the fall but continued making models in his leisure time. He dreamed of studying in Paris, then the mecca of most would-be sculptors. His clay model Tired Wrestler, a young, athletic, male nude figure, impressed the Board of Trustees of the California School for the Deaf enough that they gave him a loan of five hundred dollars for study in New York. In 1887, he resigned his teaching post and left California.
Thanks to a grant of $600 per year from the Durham Fund, administered by the California School for the Deaf, Douglas embarked for Paris in May 1888. After visiting the Salon des Artistes Français on the Champs-Elysees, he went to work on the Baseball Player. With his unorthodox, purely American motifs, Tilden was the first California-born sculptor to win recognition outside of the U.S. by being accepted in the Paris Salon in 1889, then again in 1890, 1891, 1892, and 1894.And thus Douglas began his career as an internationally known sculptor.
But another battle is brewing at CSD and that is the effort to get rid of "The Bear Hunt" sculpture on the CSD campus grounds stating that the statue is racist in nature "racist imagery" according to the latest online petition that began on June 28, 2012 calling for the removal of Tilden's statue:
We feel that while Tilden is indeed a respected Deaf artist in our community, he remains a white male from the 19th century and the sculpture still represents generations of dehumanizing violence towards Native American communities. Such depictions have no place at a school, particularly if a school aims to uphold principles of racial and ethnic justice.The petition failed to explain exactly how or why the statue is racist other than explaining that the sculptor is a white male who sculpted a statue depicting an ultimate battle and will to live between two Indians and a mother grizzly bear while trying to protect her two cubs . Exactly how does the statue dehumanizes violence towards Native American communities? It doesn't. It's about survival. Douglas Tilden explains about his "The Bear Hunt" statue:
Though “The Bear Hunt” has stood at the front of campus for years, this “branding” situation served as an opportunity for us activists to challenge our social consciousness in how we have perceived and now perceive this statue. How long has the statue stood in front of campus without being challenged? How long have some individuals’ misgivings about the statue were ignored? We are working on collaborating with Native American Deaf and Deaf People of Color organizations on this issue in order to mobilize community dialogue regarding the statue.
In 1892, Tilden finished a huge monument, the Bear Hunt. He wrote, “My Indian and bear present a full front, both in so full a vigor that who wins must forever be a question in the spectator’s mind.” The Bear Hunt arrived at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley in 1895 after being exhibited for several months at the Art Institute in Chicago. Both the school and the Bear Hunt are now located in Fremont.In other words, while looking at the statue of a battle between beast and man makes you wonder, who will win the battle? The Indians or the mother grizzly bear? What is the story behind the fight for survival? Did the Indians accidentally come across the mother Grizzly bear? Or got too close in the bear hunt? However, there is nothing racist about the "The Bear Hunt" sculpture showing two Indians battling to survive a mother grizzly attack while trying to protect her two young cubs. Hunting for bears was common. Indians hunted grizzly bears for food and other materials but at the same time they were revered and respected their fearsome strength, independence and power to the status of being a "spiritual god."
Many Indians feared the grizzly bear but still they hunted the large bears for food, clothing, and even jewelry. Claws were made into necklaces and often worn hanging from their waistband. Because of the Indians' beliefs that the bear had some spiritual power, wearing a bear claw necklace would mean protection and good health to the Indian wearing it.Shortly after the petition to have the statue removed (only 53 signatures so far) another petition came up to counter the petition for removal in the effort to keep the statue on the campus grounds of CSD.
Today Indians still wear necklaces of grizzly bear claws but only a few are preserved from the 1800s in museums. One famous bear claw necklace can be viewed at the Peabody Museum at Harvard. Since bear claws were objects that Indians treasured, very few were obtained outside of the Indian tribes.
CAD Bay Area Chapter president, David Prince, speaking... I disagree with DYUSA Bay Area Chapter to remove the Bear Hunt Statue (BHS) off the campus of the California School for the Deaf. The Bear Hunt statue is not a racist; it illustrates us to understand the visual history how the Indians fought against the nature. It demonstrates the visual education to everyone how it looks like in their time of struggle. It was like a battle in nature, Human versus Bear.So far there are 357 signatures to keep the statue vs 53 signatures to get rid of it. A strong sign that common sense is prevailing. I see no "racist imagery" in that statue other than a battle of survival between man and nature. Violence is part of the game of survival in nature. This is all about using emotional gimmickry to play the Deaf political correctness game based on some vague and obscure reasonings.
What is palpably ironic, at least to me, is that Douglas Tilden's own statue work is facing the possibility of being rejected by the students of CSD and perhaps the school itself. The irony comes from the fact that he worked at the CSD for several years as a deaf teacher and later on in his life tried to go back to CSD to work as a teacher again but only to be rejected because at the time CSD stopped hiring and employing deaf teachers. Douglas Tilden is turning over in his grave seeing that his own work is once again facing rejection. This Deaf political correctness has simply run amok with no clear thinking whatsoever using false emotional appeal.