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Polar Bear

The Polar Bear
Installed 1938

Polar Bear: Gift of the Class of 1912. Date unknown. Catalog no.: 4458.1.

Shortly after their twentieth reunion, the Class of 1912 began to plan for its twenty-fifth. Most of the energy and enthusiasm came from "the Portland Boys," as they styled themselves. Seward Marsh, class agent, summarized the developing plans for a class gift in a letter of June 1935 to William MacCormick, class secretary.1 By this time the group had decided not to give money, but rather a tangible, visible gift to the College. The result of the class's deliberations and their fund raising was the Polar Bear by Frederick G. R. Roth. Unfortunately, a strike at the Westerly, Rhode Island, quarry and the sculptor's illness delayed the installation for more than a year after the reunion, until November 5, 1938, Alumni Weekend.

The choice of the College's mascot, the polar bear, was especially important to this class because Admiral Robert E. Peary's final assault on the North Pole had occurred during their freshman year. The mascot was chosen in 1913, at the forty-third annual banquet in New York of the Bowdoin College Alumni Association. Present were Admiral Donald B. MacMillan, class of 1898, and Thomas H. Hubbard, class of 1857, president of the Explorer's Club, who outlined plans for a forthcoming polar expedition. Five years later, MacMillan gave the College the stuffed polar bear now in the lobby of the Morrell Gymnasium.

Architect John Calvin Stevens, who worked with his son, John Howard Stevens, and his grandson, John Calvin Stevens II, planned the undertaking in consultation with the college architect, McKim, Mead, and White. The latter would have been familiar with Roth's work, as his studio was in Englewood, New Jersey. Roth already had done a life-sized group of polar bears for the city of Brussels, as well as the Columbia University Lion and the Princeton University Tiger. Roth engaged Frank Camolli of Westerly, Rhode Island, to block and carve the white granite.

After the Polar Bear's unveiling, the fountain that stands between Sargent Gymnasium and the Curtis Pool was dedicated to Harry H. Cloudman, M.D. '01. The inscription reads in part: "First Athlete of His Time-Gift of His Associates 1897-1904." Cloudman had been a three-letter man, having excelled in track, football, and baseball as an undergraduate.

The Campus Mall, which extends from Sargent Gymnasium south to Curtis Pool and west to the Chapel, was completed in 1982 as designed by Saratoga Associates in their 1979 campus plan. The mall makes an ideal setting for the Polar Bear and the fountain, knits together the quadrangle and the back campus, solves a serious traffic problem, and provides a gathering space of fine proportions.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

1. S. Marsh to W. McCormick, Sp. Coll., Class of 1912.

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