Bear-ly Holding Together

Back in 2013, along with Matt Wilde, I was asked to design and build a polar bear costume for British Sea Power. We had 3 weeks to make it, and we hadn’t done anything like that before…but by combining mount making skills, a bit of A-level textiles and a lot of hot glue, I think we did a pretty good job.

Here she is playing up to the crowds at Reading festival and having a bear fight at Shepherd’s Bush Empire with British Sea Power’s other bear, Ursine Ultra, who has been touring with them for many years.

bearsontours

Since then, both bears having been returning to me periodically to be repaired and cleaned.

The black bear, Ursine Ultra, originally a Hammer horror prop, is pretty old. The foam, rubber and fabric used to make him were severely degraded and crumbling. A rock ‘n’ roll life on the road had taken its toll. He was held together with hotel room pillows, catering food trays and a lot of gaffer tape. Judging by the amount of lint, sawdust and grain in the right foot, a mouse had also set up home inside him at some point.

First off I removed the gaffa tape to reveal a grisly, exploded zombear face.

gaffaface

But, when I found an adhesive that would consolidate the foam and stick the rubber, foam and fabric back together securely (gorilla glue) I was able to reconstruct what remained of the muzzle. I then had to rebuild a new leather nose and a few fangs out of sculpey. Finally, I painted the mouth and teeth with acrylics.

The fabric tears were repaired with a strong cotton thread and matching black fur was used to replace missing fur patches. New feet were constructed from thick cotton and plastazote.

UUTOTs

When they were both fixed up and performance ready I also helped make the music video for Monsters of Sunderland, you can see both bears in it here!

Usually, for a conservation project, all materials used would be conservation grade and ideally Oddy tested. However, for this restoration project, the most important thing was that the costume was safe for people to move around in and that the repairs were as strong as possible. These bears get very heavily mauled while dancing, crowd surfing and rolling around at gigs and muddy festival fields….

rolling

The bears are fit and ready for the summer…catch them and the wondrous British Sea Power at Festival Number 6, Kendal Calling, Forgotten Fields and lots of other places look here!

….And if anyone has an old film or stage prop in need of conservation give us a shout!

 

 

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Erica Read

Erica

Erica studied conservation at Camberwell college, University of the Arts London, a course noted for its paper conservation. While working at the Natural History Museum in London she was involved with major exhibitions, conducted condition surveys and worked on a wide range of specimens including, fossils, herbariums, mixed media models and mounted skins. It was here that she became particularly interested in the conservation of taxidermy and developing ways of restoring the natural visual impact of specimens using reversible conservation techniques and materials. Erica is also experienced in large-scale packaging for long term storage and object transport. Erica currently works for Sir Quentin Blake as his archive conservator, caring for his collection of artworks including the original illustrations for classic books including Mister Magnolia, the BFG and Arabel’s raven.

Erica ReadBear-ly Holding Together