Kent Paulette’s Grandfather Mountain Bear painting is hanging above the entrance to the Nature Museum at Grandfather Mountain. It’s located in The Wilson Center for Nature Discovery.
This project has been in the works since 2019 when artist Kent Paulette first proposed the idea of making and donating an original painting of a bear for Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. He met with Jesse Pope and Lesley Platek, and they discussed the upcoming large expansion of the Nature Museum and possible spots for the painting to hang. This would be the biggest painting Paulette had ever done, 10 feet wide by 7½ feet tall.
“Grandfather Mountain is such a special place to me. This painting was inspired by my visits to the wildlife habitats and seeing the bears there. I collected water from a waterfall at Grandfather Mountain and mixed the water directly with paint to stain the canvas with my Creek Washes. A bear came to visit my home studio as I was working on this painting outside on my deck. I think it was coming to see the painting because I hadn’t seen a bear there in 3 years.
I hiked down to the creek in my backyard early in the morning before I started this painting. I stuck my face in the creek and also collected a few bottles of the creek water to mix in with the paint along with the water from Grandfather Mountain. On my hike, I went to a special tree and in my deepest voice I spoke the words ‘Ancient Sycamooooore’ into its hollow base. Four crows called out and led me to my destination, Corky Wok Rock. White laurel flowers hung over the creek and I was greeted by songbirds. As I entered the passageway through large boulders, I spotted beautiful pink laurel flowers on the other side of the creek. After I was finished collecting water, the crows and a hummingbird led me back home to my studio where I could hear the rushing water from the creek below.
I painted it outside on my deck in May 2022 during a week of extremely heavy rains. The rain water helped keep the canvas wet as I was painting my Creek Washes, so the colors were able to continue to flow together instead of drying as I went. It was a collaboration with the rain and wind. The wind blew the rain randomly on me and kept me on my toes. It also blew my tarp which grabbed paint from one spot on the painting and painted it on the canvas in another spot. Rain dripped down and hit the volume controls on my speakers, causing my music to suddenly raise loudly in volume. It’s as if the rain wanted to emphasize certain lyrics and sections of songs.
A ‘Grandfather’ Long Legs was also my collaborator. It hung out on the front of the canvas the entire time I was working on the painting. Later I found sunflower seeds in the back corner of the canvas, so I think I had another little mouse or chipmunk helper too. After I finished, more animals came by to see the painting including a rattlesnake and a mama bunny rabbit.
I used a huge palette knife to paint the thick texture and a brush to paint my Creek Washes and the little geometric shapes. As I was working on the painting, I wore clothes that I inherited from my grandfather, Harold Sewell. I used t-shirts from my childhood to wipe paint from the canvas and clean my tools. One of the rain tarps I used was our old yellow Slip’n Slide from when I was a kid which brought back happy memories of summertime with my family.
The painting was covering the sliding glass door in my bedroom, so each morning I’d wake up and see huge bear eyes looking at me. The sunrise was shining through the canvas and I could see the bear even though I was looking at the back of the painting. The painting is so big that it could also be seen from another hilltop half a mile away.”
In this painting, which is perhaps one of Paulette’s most notable works, a blue-hued black bear takes center stage. The painting, that is indeed larger than life, is an homage to one of the most glorious and powerful creatures of Appalachia. Painted in shades of blue ranging from light azure to deep indigo, the bear stares straight toward the viewer with a pensive gaze—one that both nurturing and all-knowing. As it hangs above the entrance to Grandfather Mountain’s nature museum, it appears to invite visitors inside, invoking a curiosity of the natural world. The technical aspects of the painting include stark color contrast from background to foreground, geometric shapes used to create texture and visual interest within the bear’s fur, and a composition which places the bear’s eyes at almost dead-center in the painting, leaving no possibility other than for viewer and bear to lock eyes in a soul-connecting stare.
Video of this Kent Paulette Grandfather Mountain Blue Bear painting: