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Celebrate 70 years of Smokey the Bear at the Chrysler Museum of Art
August 9 Family Day Debuts Exhibition of Iconic Images by Rudy Wendelin.

NORFOLK, VA.- The Chrysler dedicates its first free Family Day since reopening to a celebration for America’s favorite firefighter: Smokey Bear. August 9 marks the iconic character’s 70th birthday and the debut of the Museum’s exhibition Celebrating Smokey Bear: Rudy Wendelin and the Creation of an Icon.

The free Family Day starts at 10 a.m. and features a caricaturist and creative hands-on activities such as papermaking, forest collages, coloring, and sculpting small Smokey Bears. A Family Tour of the exhibition begins at 11 a.m., followed by a special tour for active-duty military and Blue Star Families at noon. Throughout the day, The Museum Shop will feature Smokey-themed souvenirs and lucky guests will win raffles for exhibition posters. After enjoying the show, guests can write a personal letter to Smokey (who has his own ZIP code), and pick up a special free keepsake booklet produced by the Virginia Department of Forestry.

The birthday bear himself will be at the Chrysler from 12:30 to 3 p.m. to meet visitors and pose for photographs. At 1 p.m., everyone is invited to enjoy birthday cake (without candles, in deference to our special guest’s preference to prevent wildfires). Guests are encouraged to share their bear-hug photos and memories of the day on the Museum’s Facebook page.

“After the excitement of the Rubber Duck, we are overjoyed to welcome another cultural icon to the Chrysler,” said museum director Bill Hennessey. “While Smokey Bear will visit us for only one day, our visitors can enjoy his 70-year history through this fascinating exhibition of paintings and memorabilia for the next six months.”

Celebrating Smokey Bear: Rudy Wendelin and the Creation of an Icon showcases the art that created an unforgettable piece of Americana—and the artist behind it all. Though Smokey Bear was introduced in 1944, his public image was largely invented by artist Rudy Wendelin (1910–2000). The Kansas native worked as an illustrator for the U.S. Forest Service from 1937 to 1973. During that time, and for two decades beyond his retirement, he was responsible for drawing Smokey Bear. It was Wendelin who conceived Smokey’s now-popular image. He created a serious, but friendly, almost human bear wearing a ranger hat and jeans, often carrying a shovel to cover still-smoldering campfire ashes.

Thanks to Wendelin’s vision for the appearance and demeanor of the ursine spokesman (and ongoing help from the Ad Council), Smokey and his famous warning, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” have become the longest running public service campaign in U.S. history. Smokey Bear has helped reduce the number of acres lost annually to wildfires from 22 million to 8.4 million.

The exhibition, commemorates not only one, but two anniversaries—Smokey Bear’s 70th birthday and the centennial of the Virginia Department of Forestry, which organized the show. Anchoring the exhibition are 19 of Wendelin’s original paintings of Smokey Bear. The artworks, on loan from Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture, have never before been on public display. The show also includes preparatory drawings, memorabilia, and collectibles inspired by Wendelin’s iconic artwork. “We would like to thank the Virginia Department of Forestry and the National Agricultural Library for giving us this unprecedented opportunity,” said Chrysler Museum deputy director Susan Leidy, education director Anne Corso, and interpretation manager Seth Feman, who served as co-curators. “We are delighted to tell the story about the creation of this all-American icon who is so familiar and important to all of us.”

Celebrating Smokey Bear: Rudy Wendelin and the Creation of an Icon will be on view in the Focus Gallery (G. 229) at the Chrysler Museum of Art through February 1, 2015. Admission is free.

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