Date July 24, 2023
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Photos: The legacy of Brown’s mascot lives on in campus bear statues

Through the seasons, outdoor bear statues across College Hill delight passersby and celebrate the history of the beloved Brown University mascot, Bruno.

PROVIDENCE R.I. [Brown University] — As the summer sun blazed overhead on a July afternoon, the green-tinged “Bronze Bruno” statue looked out over the College Green, serving as a 7-foot-tall sentinel and greeting Brown community members and visitors.

“Bronze Bruno” is among the four outdoor bear statues that dot the Brown University campus in celebration of the Brown mascot — statuary odes to Bruno that delight passersby and serve as popular backdrops for selfies.

In addition to “Bronze Bruno,” there’s “Indomitable,” a 10-foot-high bronze bear sculpture in Ittleson Quadrangle; an unnamed abstract sculpture, nicknamed “Swearer Bear,” nestled in the Maddock Alumni Center garden; and “Little Bear Fountain,” which depicts a bear playfully lapping at a fountain of water outside the Brown Faculty Club.

People pose for photo in front of Bronze Bruno
Statuary odes to Bruno delight passersby and serve as popular backdrops for selfies. Photo by Nick Dentamaro 

Among the fans of the bear statues is rising senior Maggie Bauer, who is concentrating in education studies with a focus in art and museum education. While she was enrolled in an American studies course titled the Promise of Informal Learning during the spring semester, she was inspired to investigate the origin of Brown’s mascot and its representation through campus statues, which ultimately led her to create a Brown Bears tour art walk as a class project.

“The bear statues represent a point of pride for Brown,” Bauer said. “They also serve as public art installations that anyone can enjoy, which can be really effective for learning about history in a social and pleasurable way.”

Brown’s bear mascot originated at the dawn of the 20th century from Theodore Francis “T. F.” Green. A Brown alumnus and professor of Roman law at the University who later served as Rhode Island's governor, Green introduced the idea of a bear as Brown’s mascot as an embodiment of the virtues of strength, independence and courage, according to Brown Sports Archivist Peter Mackie, a 1959 graduate who has served as an archivist for the University since 2001.

Subsequently, in 1905, a live bear named Bruno made its debut at a Brown football game against Dartmouth College, inaugurating a tradition of live bears at sporting events — which shifted to a costumed version by the mid-1960s, Mackie said.

For more than a century, representations of Bruno have delighted Brown students, faculty, staff and alumni. The following outdoor statues represent Brown’s mascot through sculpture.

Bronze Bruno (1927)

Installed in 1927, “Bronze Bruno” was the first bear statue on campus. Crafted by renowned animal sculptor Eli Harvey, who was hired by a student committee to create “a rallying center for student celebrations,” “Bronze Bruno” was modeled after a bear from the Bronx Zoo, according to Mackie.

It was originally installed at Brown’s former Marvel Gymnasium. When the gymnasium closed in 1992, the statue was moved to the College Green.

Little Bear Fountain (1932)

“Bronze Bruno” received such a resounding reaction that Green donated a drinking fountain in the likeness of a bear, which was placed in the Faunce House courtyard in 1932, according to Mackie.

Green was inspired by a statue of a bear leaning over a fountain that he saw on a trip to Germany, which he enjoyed so much that he commissioned German sculptor Ernest Moritz Geyger to cast a replica for Brown. After years of weathering, “Little Bear Fountain” was restored to its former glory and ultimately moved to the Brown Faculty Club on Bannister Street, where its unmistakable long tongue extends toward the water.

“There used to be a ladle attached to it, and people would take the ladle and drink water coming out of the bear’s nostrils, back when water originally flowed out of its nostrils,” Mackie said.

Today, visitors to “Little Bear Fountain” can only imagine drinking water out of the bear’s nostrils, as that feature is no longer operational. 

Indomitable (2013)

Filling a void after "Bronze Bruno" was moved away from Ittleson Quadrangle, “Indomitable” was installed in 2013, welcoming visitors to the University's Erickson Athletic Complex.

Created by sculptor Nick Bibby, the 10-foot-tall statue has become a “de facto symbol of athletics,” Mackie said. The sculpture was cast in the United Kingdom and shipped to Rhode Island where it was pieced together.

Reflecting on the four distinct bear statues on campus, Mackie said it’s impossible to pick a favorite.

“They’re all my favorites,” Mackie said with a laugh. “They’re like my children — you can’t make a decision about what child is your favorite.”

Unnamed (Swearer Bear — 1988)

One of Bauer’s favorite bears — dubbed “Swearer Bear” by members of the Brown community — is located nearby at the Maddock Alumni Center on Brown Street. The Class of 1949 commissioned Nick Swearer — son of Howard Swearer, Brown's president from 1977 to 1988 — to create a bear in honor of his father.

“There are a few visible fingerprints, which shows that these bronze sculptures were cast from clay models,” Bauer said.

Dedicated in 1988 at Maddock, the uniqueness of the bear lies within its face. When one peers into the bear’s mouth, they are met with the eyes of a person inside — as if someone is wearing the University mascot costume.