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Painted beaver statue removed in Bemidji, supporters start campaign to bring it back

This beaver statue painted by Deborah Davis has been pulled from the Bemidji Sculpture Walk. Some have complained to city about the statue's painting design. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

BEMIDJI, Minn. - The city manager's decision to remove one of nine beaver statues placed throughout Bemidji because of complaints it looked pornographic sparked a holiday weekend fight with the artist who created it.

Bemidji city manager John Chattin said he decided Thursday to remove the statue after receiving about 20 complaints.

That decision angered artist Deborah Davis - who said she didn't intend to offend or titillate - and from some community members and fellow artists who expressed their outrage on Facebook and the Web site of the Bemidji Pioneer.

"I am just so sick and tired of other people making decisions about what is best for me, or for anyone else for that matter," Bemidji resident Karen Ann Kimbrough wrote on a Facebook page that sprung up in support of Davis, who lives in nearby Blackduck.

Davis's statue, titled "Gaea," features forms of the female body as well as a tree and flower. The beaver's belly shows a human figure rising from a sea of pinkish-red circles.

"I did not intend it to be sexual or titillating in any way," Davis told the Bemidji Pioneer. She noted she is a former kindergarten teacher who has counseled women and girls.

"I would never do pornography. I am anti-pornography," she said.

In a description of her work, Davis wrote in explanation: "Gaea means Mother Earth. It also means 'God is Gracious,' and is one of the 52 feminine aspects of God in the Christian Bible. Gaea in mythology was a female Titan. If we could embrace the strength of womaness, celebrate it, we would become the people we are meant to be: nurturing, loving, whole."

The nine beaver sculptures are included in this year's Bemidji Sculpture Walk. All started life as 4-foot-tall plain fiberglass forms, and after painting by local artists were placed on various city-owned spots. Most are in downtown Bemidji.

Al Belleveau, a member of a city committee that oversees the Sculpture Walk, said he didn't initially have a problem with Davis's work but knows that art can be open to interpretation.

"I believe discussion about art is a good thing as long as it is maintained civilly," he said.

"Gaea" is currently on Belleaveau's property while its future is determined. Davis may be allowed to alter the front of the sculpture if she wants, or if she opts not to, it could be moved to a local art gallery so viewers could choose if they want to see it, he said.

But some community members are crying censorship. Several other artists who painted beavers cloaked their own sculptures on Sunday in solidarity with Davis, and some of her supporters intend to raise the issue at a Bemidji City Council meeting on Tuesday night.


Information from: Pioneer,