"Bear Hotel" conjures images of Yogi and Boo Boo checking in on vacation.
There are no rooms for rent at Grants Pass' Bear Hotel Artworks Museum, but there are bears galore, all made of fiberglass. There also are small, alien creatures, a large Bigfoot and his comfortable cave, an even larger rocket ship, a throne or two, 33 doors painted with the history of Oregon, 23 shields painted with scenes from American history, an assortment of Harley-Davidson choppers and a Volkswagen painted with polar bears.
That's not to mention some interactive games, a training center for future Mars astronauts and about two-dozen artists working on various projects.
The Bear Hotel is actually a secret treasure owned by Evergreen Bank for the enjoyment of the community, hidden away in an industrial section of Grants Pass.
Retired Evergreen Bank President Brady Adams, who came up with the first BearFest project in 2003, is the man behind the Bear Hotel. While remodeling the Grants Pass bank, Adams visited local sculptor Peter Sedlow and saw his bear sculptures.
"They made me laugh," says Adams.
Adams had seen an article about Chicago having artists paint and display cows throughout the city and thought bears would be a good symbol for Grants Pass. Thirty bears were displayed on the streets of Grants Pass then auctioned off, netting $175,000 for local nonprofits.
"The idea was to give artists a canvas and then get out of their way — let them bring their magic," says Adams.
In 2004, they also allowed artists who didn't have space for the large bears to work in a rented warehouse. The next two years produced 124 bears. There are, however, only so many people who have a place to display a 7-foot-tall fiberglass bear, so not all were sold, leaving the bank with a storage problem. So the bank built its own 23,000-square-foot warehouse and made it a place that welcomed the community to use and visit.
Any nonprofit is allowed to use either the meeting room or the entire facility for events. Fifteen to 20 artists work at the warehouse on a continual basis. And individuals may visit free — it requires only a reservation a week in advance to arrange a tour guide.
Sculptor Sedlow has a workshop in the Bear Hotel, where visitors can watch him create the models for his lifelike animal sculptures, many of which are featured at the restaurant and park.
"We give artists hope," says Adams. "Even those who have an extraordinary amount of talent have a hard time making a living. For the bears, we give them supplies and a $500 gratuity, which really barely covers their expenses. But they often get work from being seen."
Adams is always coming up with new ideas.
"Last year, we had 10,000 visitors in five days for our 'Christmas on Mars' exhibit. We expect 12,000 to 15,000 to (attend) this year's holiday show," says Adams.
"People ask me why I don't just retire," says Adams. "I get these crazy ideas that the artists bring to life and that the community appreciates enough to raise money for local nonprofits. It's a partnership, but I have the best job in the world. Why would I want to retire?"
To visit the Bear Hotel, make reservations by calling 541-479-3351, ext. 3083.