Artist Bear Romero is not encumbered with the issues of identification that form most people. He doesn’t align himself with any particular culture – he can’t, as he began his life an orphan. He knows that he was born in Las Vegas, New Mexico and that his father most likely had a tribal affiliation (Cree, he’s been told) but, for Bear Romero, it is the freedom of unknown circumstances that most informed his life. “My heroes are Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and Crazy Horse,” he says. “I can’t ever be prejudiced against anyone because I might be the same as them.”
Growing up as a city kid in Denver, Bear Romero became a run-away in his early teens ultimately arriving by bus at a small settlement north of Taos, NM. A local family showed him to an empty adobe where he could stay and, with no running water and its remote location, Bear Romero faced culture-shock adjusting to his new lifestyle. “I got real healthy,” he remembers, “but real lonely too.” The teenager’s artistry blossomed as he painted murals on his walls and sat on the adobe’s roof to carve deer antlers. When he moved on he found himself welcomed on South Dakota’s Rosebud Reservation. This is where the unsettled life of hard times he’d endured as a child began to truly transition. It saved his life, he recalls. He found a spirituality that settled him and allowed his life to open up.
By the time his son was born, Bear Romero had also found a family among his then wife’s Apache relations. Life blossomed after years of hardship and the artistic side of Bear Romero found a home deep inside of stones. “I’d go off and try other work, but I’d always go back to the rock,” he says; “it’s the only thing I have. God sent me that and it just feels like what I’m supposed to do.” Not long after Bear Romero learned to carve stone, the art world of Taos and Santa Fe embraced his artistry and skill. Settled in northern Arizona for some time now, the reach of Bear Romero’s artwork has grown along with his talent and the number of collectors for his carved stone animal sculptures.
For this gifted artist the journey he takes with each stone begins as soon as he lifts it from the earth; Bear Romero himself quarries both Arizona ice alabaster and Utah orange alabaster to use for his animal sculptures. It is a kinship and connection that feeds directly into his work. Bear Romero always allows each stone to reveal to him the animal within. “I don’t ever plan out what a piece is going to be,” Romero explains. “Each rock has its own form, its own story; it’s better to just let it flow.”
Bear Romero creates a good number of carved stone bears, standing upright as well as on all fours; he is well-known for his “belly bears,” playful bears with rotund bellies exposed as they lay on their backs trusting the whole world around them. Frequently, his bears hold an abalone shell “salmon” in their mouth. His carved stone animals range from 10” to 20” high, weighing from 28 to 65 pounds.
The clearly recognizable style of the carved stone animals of Bear Romero, with its power, humor, and often the addition of intricate fetish decorations, continues to draw critical acclaim. Surprise and joy is the usual response to every Bear Romero carved animal sculpture as each one speaks with its own clear voice.
The stone carvings that Bear Romero produces exhibit just how successfully, despite quite incredible odds, this artist has, literally, carved out his place in the world of art.