COVER STORY: Iconic Smokey Statues Born in Bend


By Steve Kaufmann
Central Oregon Daily News

Some days at the office are a real bear.

“It’s really intricate work.”

But for Nolan Wilson and the team, that’s OK.

“So the bread and butter that anyone can’t miss is our statues,” Wilson said.

Life size monuments to special a bear.

“Smokey is so iconic.”

Seventy five years iconic.

“He is known. And he’s know for everything positive.”

Smokey Bear was brought to life in 1944, by the U.S. Forest Service as a way to educate the public on the dangers of wildfire.

The Smokey statues were born in Central Oregon 15 years ago at The Smokey Zone.

“There are 95 in the world.”

They are the creation of company founder Scott Wegner, who still paints the six foot fiberglass creatures at shop in Bend.

“The fur has multiple layers as well as his pants.  And then his eyeballs, weirdly enough, take the most because he’s got to be looking straight ahead being vigilant. And so the eyeballs take about an hour per eye, it’s just extremely detailed.”

A paint job that takes at least 15 hours.

“So our bears cost 89 hundred bucks. And it is a one of a kind, no two bears are similar just because of the hand painting that goes into it.”

A portion of the sales goes into fire prevention. The Smokey Zone creates the bears under a licensing agreement with the Department of Agriculture, who over sees the Forest Service.

“So it is a work of art and a living statue that people seem to gravitate towards.”

One thing that you might not notice, he’s got a flat head.

“And it would just sit on Smokey.”

But his message hasn’t fallen flat.

“The Smokey message is still the same as it was 75 years ago, trying to reduce the number of human stars we have across the nation,” said Jona Ensley, fire prevention specialist with the Deschutes National Forest. “You know 9 out of 10 of our fires are started by humans, so those are technically preventable starts, so still Smokey has some work to do and he’s still relevant.”

“You know it’s Smokey popping through the cellophane. So that ’s a cool little trick that I don’t think would work for every product, but it works for us.”

A little extra insurance.

“Leaving him out where the shipper can see him, we’ve never had one damaged.”

There is so much wrapped up in the image and message of Smokey that you might not think about the statue itself.

“It’s one of those where you drive past something and you’re like you never think how that got there.”

“He is definitely our mascot. He is one of the top three most recognizable mascots. He’s up there with Santa Clause and Mickey Mouse. It’s really cool that a Bend based company is providing a one of a kind stature for the world. We hear about it weekly, just about how cool it is to be able to walk up and greet Smokey.”

Making this job little more bearable.



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