Ned Bear remembered for craftsmanship and inspiring others

Ned Bear, the renowned Atlantic Canadian wood carver, is being remembered for his art and his influence.  

The Indigenous sculptor died on Christmas Eve at the age of 65.   

Bear was best known for his masks, which he often carved out of butternut or yellow birch wood, then decorated with furs and hair.

His masks hang in collections across Atlantic Canada, and two of them are at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. 


"He was a master carver," said John Leroux, manager of collections and exhibitions at the gallery. "He actually saw these as not being inanimate pieces of wood but literally alive, and they are when you look at them."

Bear grew up in St. Mary's First Nation, or Sitansisk, in Fredericton and was the first Indigenous student to graduate from the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. 

He also studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the First Nations University of Canada in Saskatchewan. He earned his bachelor of education degree from the University of New Brunswick.

"Ned almost overnight became a sensation in the 1980s and regarded as the most important Indigenous artist in the Maritimes at that time," said Leroux.  

Leroux said that if it wasn't for the work and mentorship of Ned Bear, artists such as Percy Sacobie and Charles Gaffney wouldn't have their work in the Beaverbrook Art Gallery as well.

"He was just the embodiment of the selfless artist," Leroux said. "He saw his mission not only to create, but to inspire, and he brought so many young artists along with him.

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"In fact, the current landscape of First Nations art in the Maritimes would be completely different had Ned Bear not been there to help guide it."

Bear taught at Fredericton High School in the early 1980s, through a program that taught traditional art to Indigenous students having a hard time with school. 

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Percy Sacobie was one of his students and said he wouldn't be an artist without Bear's leadership and inspiration.  

"He developed a style that wasn't actually here in the East Coast, so we were able to follow his footsteps in that," said Sacobie.

"I focus a lot on painting, so with Ned's influence I kind of developed my own style of artwork to represent people from the East."

A much-needed mentor

Shane Perley-Dutcher also took Bear's class at Fredericton High School, at a time when he was struggling with his own identity. 

"I was really having a hard time in high school," said Perley-Dutcher. "That was probably one of the most challenging times of my life. I had a lot of aggression issues."

But when he saw Bear's ability to heal from his own struggles through art, Perley-Dutcher realized he could do the same.

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"He was there in a time when I needed to find myself, as a person and as an artist," said Perley-Dutcher. 

"The native art class was a place where I was supported as an Indigenous artist and was a place where I was encouraged to find myself through the art forms."

Friends and family are gathering Monday afternoon to remember Ned Bear. His online obituary ends with a quote, with some advice on how he wanted people to live.

"We delve into so many past wrongs of our lives that we forget to revel in the present. Learn to capture what you may never have again, now. Do what makes you content for this time, and begin to realize the true purpose of life," said Bear.