WILLIAMS, Ariz. — Renowned wood carver, sculptor and artist Jonathan LaBenne is at it again, this time carving a full-scale grizzly bear, bear
cub and otters for Bearizona Wildlife Park.
The new sculpture, created in honor of International Sculpture Day, is called “Inspiration Gone Wild” and will be on display in the walk-through portion of the park next to the otter habitat. The sculpture will feature a giant grizzly bear at the base of a real tree accompanied by grizzly bear cubs, that are meeting three friendly otters. A bald eagle on a nest will top off the sculpture.
LaBenne was first commissioned by Bearizona owner Sean Casey in 2009 to help dream up themes and designs that are now some of Bearizona’s signature designs.
“I always get excited when I hear from (Sean) because it’s something exciting we’re going to do. I’ve been working with him for 30 years,” LaBenne said.
Casey said LaBenne’s designs and dedication to Bearizona have helped make the park what it is today.
“There is no question about it: Bearizona would not be the experience it is today without the LaBenne family and their incredible talent and vision,” Casey said. “We could not be more thrilled that the new otter habitat will be marked by yet another fantastic LaBenne creation, and we are hopeful that if we build a grizzly bear sculpture, we may attract the opportunity to rescue them in the future. We have been wanting to rescue grizzly bears for years.”
LaBenne has been in the wood carving business his entire life and works with family members — his sons Josh and Jesse and his daughter — to design and complete sculptures and other projects.
The design for the new grizzly bear project is not yet complete. LaBenne said the tree will be textured and there will be other small woodland animals peering from the trunk.
“I might throw a raccoon peeking out of a knot hole too but the whole tree will be textured and there will be branches coming off here and there,” he said.
As for the new display, LaBenne said he and his associate Ed Godsell plan to install live recordings that can be played for visitors.
Additional Bearizona projects
Other projects LaBenne and family members are currently working on at Bearizona include a full-size mountain lion that will be displayed in the gift shop and a snake pit, complete with murals painted by Josh LaBenne.
The snake pit, which currently has two pythons in its enclosure, is set to resemble the Blackwater River in South Carolina. The trees and rocks in the enclosure were sculpted by Josh using a concrete base.
LaBenne said one of the most enjoyable projects he’s completed at Bearizona has been the Canyonlands Restaurant.
“It was just a ton of fun,” he said. “The restaurant so far is our crown jewel.”
LaBenne said the next big project that could top even Canyonlands Restaurant is a new hotel at Bearizona. That project is tentatively set to be complete in 2020.
More information about LaBenne is available at www.jonathanbearman.com.