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Arts & Culture

One Giant Grizzly At Lenoir-Rhyne

Kevin Granados

At Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, the time had come for a huge red oak. The roughly 200-year-old tree was dying.  The school had to take it down. But now, the tree has a new life – as a bear.

Otis Pitts was in charge of arranging for the tree to be taken down. He’s Lenoir-Rhyne’s director of facilities management. He got a quote for the job from tree service professional Joey Rowe.

“And in the course of the conversation I (said), ‘You know we’re thinking about carving a bear out of a tree. Do you know anybody that does this?’ "

Rowe grinned. Otis Pitts was looking at the man who could do the job.

If you’re not familiar with Lenoir-Rhyne, they’re the Bears.

Credit Kevin Granados / WFAE

And now, the old oak tree has been carved into the biggest bear on campus. It stands 13 feet high, roaring with all its teeth showing. And there’s no doubt what type of bear this is.

“It’s a grizzly bear," Pitts says. "It’s not a black bear. It’s not a polar bear. It’s a grizzly bear.”

The grizzly is standing on boulders carved out of the base of the tree. The carving took eight days to finish, starting with the head, Rowe says.

“On a tree this big, proportion is a big factor," he says. "Once you get your head proportioned and the way you want it, the rest kind of flows.

A propane torch gets the right coloring. This grizzly is black with a brown snout.

As the torch blows, a few people in a truck stop to take some pictures. There’s been a lot of that happening, Pitts says the response has been "fantastic."

“We had no idea that this would create such a stir, but I think everybody loves it."

Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation.