Q & A with Ned Bear (April 10, 2007, via telephone)
1. When and where were you born?
I was born in Fredericton in 1954.
2. Do you have brothers and sisters?
I had four brothers and four sisters. I was number 5, right in the middle.
3. Did you like them when you were growing up?
We got along all right. We had our ups and downs like any family. My playmates were people in the community, not really my brothers and sisters. A bunch of us used to explore the woods around our community and make “Robin Hood” camps.
4. What was your favourite thing to do when you were a child?
When I was about 7 or 8 I would be an explorer and find all the wonders hidden in the woods. If I found something I thought was interesting, I would show it to my family or people I knew. But the magic was taken away when they would ridicule it or me. I learned to keep it to myself and bury the things I found. In a way, I buried the magic of childhood. I think the house I live in was built on the place where I buried my magical things.
5. Did you have any jobs you had to do for your parents?
We had a wood-burning stove and I had to load the basement with wood before the snow came.
6. What were your favourite classes at school?
I went to an Indian Day School for kindergarten on the reserve within Fredericton. The first thing we were taught was the catechism because the school was run by the Roman Catholic Church. We didn’t have a choice about our religion. I was raised a Roman Catholic and Christianity was shoved down our throats. After Grade 3 we left, went to Devon Elementary School. I liked science.
7. Did you have a favourite game or sport?
As a community we played “1 2 3 Red Light,” “Red Rover,” “Father, May I?” “Hide and Seek,” and tag – “It.” Sliding in the winter.
8. Did you have a favourite book?
Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] can be translated as The Book of the Way and its Virtue. I read this when I was about 12 or 13 and I thought, “I know this stuff.” It had a very profound effect on me.
9. Did you draw or paint as a child?
Draw. All kids like to draw.
10. Did you know any artists when you were a child?
I saw a carver once. Or was it a dream? I am not sure whether I really saw him or not. I had been playing with friends and they disappeared. I saw this carver in his workshop. His pipe smelled so good. I could hear the sound of the wood chopping. I stayed long enough to experience the essence of it. I wanted to recreate the atmosphere of that place [when I grew up] but not necessarily to become a carver. That experience was an epiphany for me.
11. Did people think you would grow-up to be an artist?
No. They still don’t.
12. How old were you when you decided to be an artist?
I never decided to become an artist. After high school I joined the army and was sent to Cyprus as a peacekeeper. Then I trained to become an art teacher. That led me to the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design where I studied for three years.
13. Why did you decide to become an artist?
I didn’t decide. I just became one. I decide what I want to do, and then do it.
14. Did you go to art school?
15. Who is your favourite artist?
Allan Houser, a Native sculptor from the southwestern United States. My favourite European artist is Rodin. I also like Aztec art.
16. What is the best thing about being an artist?
17. What is the worst thing about being an artist?
Finishing my woodcarvings. The sanding and oiling of each piece. I have an allergic reaction to tung oil so my uncle or son has to do it for me with my supervision.
18. If you could be anything else in the whole world, what would you be?
A brain surgeon to fix my brain. [Note: Ned Bear suffered a stroke and is recovering from its effects.] To answer your question, I wouldn’t really want to be anybody else. As a kid, I always wanted to be somebody else. I have learned to like myself as I have grown older. It takes a lifetime to fully accept who we are. Can’t have the good without the bad.