The Bear

Hard stone carving studio “Svyatogor”

The Old Man and the Bear (adaptation by A. Tolstoy)

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Almost no other animals are as closely associated with Russia as the bear. Russians often joke about foreigners’ expectations to see a bear on a city street (with a balalayka and a bottle of vodka to boot). Circus bears, the popular brand of sweets Mishka na Severe (Mishka of the North), Shishkin’s painting Morning in a Pine Forest and the mascot of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow... the multi-faceted image of the bear is truly widespread not only in folk culture, but also in everyday Russian life. Russian fairy tales definitely played an important role in the rising popularity of the bear as a symbol.

The bear’s image originated in religious beliefs, rituals and folklore much earlier than any others. It is no exaggeration to say that this ancient archetype was present in Slavic culture from its earliest days, and the stories emphasizing the great and grandiose character of this animal date back to that period.

That said, people’s vision of a bear did not remain unchanged and in later fairy tales, the bear appears rather more contradictory; having preserved its might and strength, it began showing a little more irony and even satire.

Researchers associate these changes with shifts in people’s lifestyles. In earlier fairy tales, the bear is a symbol of a completely destructive force, which only a select few can resist, mostly with their cunning. However, over time, this image undergoes a transformation; without losing its might, the bear gradually starts to resemble a human being, rather than its mythical ancestor.

The bear is typically portrayed as the owner of the forest, as well as the patron of wild and domestic animals in fairy tales about animals, which fits very well with the archetype of a tzar. At the same time, certain stories are centred on the conflicts and contradictions between a bear and a man. In one way or another, a bear appears in almost a third of all Russian fairy tales and there is not really one straightforward interpretation of its image. In some folk tales, bears are quite careless, for instance, The Old Man and the Bear features a peasant who, without even resorting to cunning, easily outsmarts the bear. Fairy tales like Teremok, however, portray the bear as so disproportionately strong, that he accidentally smashes a house (terem) where small forest animals live. Bears can also be noble; in The Bear and the Dog, the bear helps an abandoned dog find its way home.

In a way, these fairy tales helped people overcome their fear of wild animals because bears and other large animals posed a real threat to the inhabitants of small villages. However, over time this need for reassurance and a feeling of security took a poetic form and became deeply rooted in the national consciousness and culture.

The stone sculpture of the bear uses a particularly striking choice of materials. The Agate, used for a tree stump, deserves a special mention. During the carving process, the craftsmen took into consideration the differences in colour between the layers, which makes this composition similar to a cameo; under the brown and wrinkly bark you can make out a lighter layer and the greenish ‘wood’ shines through where it is supposed to be broken. The wood shavings between the bear’s paws make the whole composition even more true-to-life.

The Old Man and the Bear (adaptation by A. Tolstoy)

Man went into the forest to plant some turnip seeds. He plowed and worked hard. Then the bear came up:

— Old man, I’ll break your back.

— Don’t break my back, good bear, let’s sow the turnips together instead. I’ll just take the roots, you can have all the tops.

— So be it, — the bear said. — But if you try to trick me, don’t you dare show yourself in my forest.

Having said this, he went away deep into the forest.

The turnips grew to good size. In the fall, the old man arrived to harvest the turnips. No sooner did he reach the field that the bear came out of the forest.

— Old man, let’s divide up the turnips, give me my share.

— All right good bear, let’s share: you take the tops, I take the roots.

The old man gave all the greens to the bear, and loaded all the turnips in the cart and took it to the city to sell.

The bear came towards him:

— Old man, where are you going?

— I’m going to the city, good bear, to sell the roots.

— Let me taste those roots.

The old man gave the bear a turnip. No sooner had the bear eaten the turnip that he roared:

— Aahrgh! — Old man, you tricked me! Your roots are sweet. Now don’t you dare fetch wood from the forest, or I’ll break your back.

The following year, the old man sowed rye in that same field. When he returned to harvest it, the bear was waiting for him:

— You won’t fool me twice, old man, give me my share.

The old man said:

— So be it. Take the roots, good bear, and I’ll just take the tops.

They harvested the rye. The old man gave the roots to the bear, and loaded the rye into his cart and took it home.

The bear tried to chew on the roots this way, and that way, but got nothing out of them.

He became very angry with the old man, and from then on, there was great enmity between bears and men.

The Bear

Hard stone carving studio “Svyatogor”


Author: Ivan Golubev

Craftsman: Ivan Vandyshev

Finishers: Sergey Tsygankov, Alexander Pogrebnoy

Materials: flint, agate, opal, brass, silver-plating

Dimensions: 31 × 23 × 23 cm

The Bear

Hard stone carving studio “Svyatogor”


Author: Ivan Golubev

Craftsmen: Alexey Zefirov,Oleg Nikolaevsky, Ivan Golubev

Finisher: Albert Klevakin

Materials: crystal, smoky quartz

Dimensions: 32 × 20 × 20 cm