Polar bear greets visitors as art festival begins in Yorkshire fishing village

It is a village known for its long association with art and the sea, but as the seventh annual Staithes Festival gets under way today, a less familiar aspect of its history will dominate the horizon.

ANIMAL MAGIC: Emma Stothard with her polar bear. PIC: Tony Bartholomew
ANIMAL MAGIC: Emma Stothard with her polar bear. PIC: Tony Bartholomew

A polar bear, fashioned from stripped and woven white willow around a central steel armature by the local artist Emma Stothard, has been installed overlooking the Harbour, and will remain there through September.

Ms Stothard, whose galvanised steel wire sculpture of a 19th century Craven Heifer, the largest cow ever exhibited in England, was a highlight at this summer’s Great Yorkshire Show, said she had produced the new work in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s first voyage of discovery.

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Cook, whose early life was spent in Staithes, did not encounter a polar bear – he was killed in Hawaii in 1779 – but his successor, Capt Charles Clerke, did so, five months later.

A second local seaman, William Scoresby Sr, master whaler and inventor of the barrel crow’s nest, brought a polar bear cub home from one of his Arctic voyages in the early 1800s.

Ms Stothard said: “Living in Whitby, I’ve long been familiar with the stories of Captains Cook and Scoresby, and I wanted to sculpt a polar bear. This seemed the perfect year to do it.”

Her previous artworks for the weekend-long festival have included giant lobsters and a life-size family of elephants.

The Staithes event, for which shops, houses and other available spaces are turned into pop-up art galleries, was inspired by a festival in east Scotland, and has grown into one of the biggest of its kind.

Some 7,000 people are expected to descend on the picturesque fish­ing village today and tomorrow.

In the late 19th century, it was home to two dozen painters who took their inspiration from the impressionists and called themselves the Staithes