Black bear finds home in Houlton’s Riverfront Park

Houlton, Maine — Riverfront Park has a new visitor.

On Sept. 20, Forest Hart’s fourth of 12 “Bear Tracks” bronze statues was added to Houlton’s Riverfront Park, replacing a moose sculpture created by Glenn Hines.

Hines had leased his sculpture to the town for $1, with an expectation that the Riverfront Park Committee would raise $25,000 over three years to pay for the statute. The moose remained with the town from June 2009 to July 2012, but when the money wasn’t raised, Hines removed his sculpture in anticipation of selling it to someone in Brooklyn.

Hart, who is from Monroe, is lending the “Bear Tracks” to the town with no immediate intention of removing the bronze statue.

“If there is a need for it, I still have another one at home,” explained Hart. “So, it will be here awhile.”

Former Town Manager Doug Hazlett had corresponded with Hart to see if the sculptor would be interested in setting a piece in the Shiretown.

Hart agreed. The piece had been displayed at the Game Farm in Gray, which closed Sept. 15. The hope was to have the bronze statue set by Sept. 29 in time for the first-ever Harvest Festival, sponsored by the Riverfront Park Committee, Vital Pathways, town of Houlton and the Houlton Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a nice place and there are wonderful people here. I also lived in the area for five years,” Hart said smiling when asked why he chose Houlton for his piece. Hart worked at A.H. Fogg Company and Worthmore, which closed in 1969. He has plenty of friends in the Oakfield area, too.

“I have an inventory, so sometimes I have extra pieces I don’t have a place for,” he said. “I let people [organizations, towns and more] borrow them that want them.”

Each piece that Hart casts is a limited edition. The “Bear Tracks” is number four of 12.

“I do have people call and commission my work,” he said.

Hart’s work can be seen all across the country, as he has sculpted the “Cub Scouts” in front of Nutting Hall at the University of Maine Orono, as well as the Tiger of the University of Missouri. He also has crafted life-size sculptures of people such as Daniel Cony, founder of Cony High School, and the eighth supreme court justice of the United States, Melville Fuller, who was born in Augusta, but made his mark in Chicago. Fuller served from 1888-1910.

Hart has sculpted pieces in Africa, given sculpting classes at the University of England and held classes in South Africa, as well. Hart completed a bronze moose for Moosehead Brewery in St. John, N.B.

“Most of my pieces are in this country,” he said. “I have 22 life-sized pieces outside my place.”

Hart’s interest in sculpting took shape when he was 10 years old when he switched from being a painter to trying his hand at taxidermy.

As they were listening to Hart talk about his foray into taxidermy, Lori Weston, Houlton’s community development director, and Jane Torres, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, asked in unison, “Your mother let you do that?”

Hart smiled and explained his mother had been the only girl among four brothers. They were restricted and couldn’t do what they wanted.

“So, she said when she had kids they could do anything they wanted, as long as it was in reason and legal,” Hart said with a laugh. So, he raised wild animals and at the age of 11, he took a taxidermy correspondence course.

At the end of his taxidermy days, Hart specialized in life-size animals and freelanced for museums.

“I actually worked for the Denver museum for a short time,” he said.

For Hart to sculpt life-size animals, he had to make a mannequin to put the skin over.

“The demand for the mannequins was so great, I quit doing taxidermy and just sold mannequins,” he said. “It was fun and I really enjoyed it.”

While making mannequins, Hart started doing bronze pieces, which he said, “was a step up and a lot of fun.”

Though the mannequin business was steady, Hart was getting away from the one thing he loved the most — sculpting.

“The business got so big with the mannequins that I wasn’t a sculptor anymore, I was a businessman,” Hart explained. “I didn’t like being a businessman. I like to make things. So, I sold the business and have been doing bronzes since then. It is what I like to do.”

Hart never attended art school and his abilities are natural and self-taught.

“I learned a lot from the animals,” he said. “When you have to make the mannequins you have to really know them. I made face casts of them, muscle casts and I had measuring charts so I could measure them and get all the proportions.

“I even cleaned the skeleton and set it up for an armature,” he said. “I sculpted over the skeleton, so I knew all the joints were in the right place and the legs bent in the right place.”

A fire in 2005 caused Hart to lose all of his possessions.

“I lost everything,” he said. “I had to start from scratch and since then it’s been like a marathon of monuments I’ve had to do and deadlines.”

The 350-pound “Bear Tracks” is making its home in Houlton for now.

During the Harvest Festival on Saturday, youths participating in the children’s race at 9 a.m. will be invited to name the bear in Riverfront Park.

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