Local Artist Documents Story of Kodiak Bears with The Sketchbook Project

Susan Kloch Wendlandt. Submitted photo.

Munsey and Boda’s Story Reaches Worldwide Audience

Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) The story of Wildwood Zoo’s Kodiak bears Munsey and Boda is being shared across the nation and world thanks to the efforts of a local artist.

Local photographer and artist Susan Kloch Wendlandt has created three sketchbooks of art and photographs entitled “Survivor” and a digital copy, “Survivor II,” for The Sketchbook Project.

The project invites artists to fill a blank sketchbook that becomes part of the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Art Library in Williamsburg, New York. Visitors can view over 49,600 sketchbooks that have been sent from 101 different countries at the library and via traveling collections, or browse the digital collection online.

A passionate fan of Munsey and Boda who has faithfully documented them since their arrival to Marshfield in the fall of 2015, Wendlandt had the perfect subject for her sketchbooks.

“I have been determined to get the story out beyond Wisconsin about the Kodiak bears,” she explained.

Her sketchbooks include a selection of the many photographs of the bears that she’s taken over the years, extended by drawings, plus nine hand-pulled Intaglio prints, collages, a charcoal drawing of Munsey inspired by her documentation, and text explaining the bears’ rescue as orphaned cubs from Kodiak Island in Alaska.

Once completed, Wendlandt shipped the sketchbooks back to the library. “It almost couldn’t fit into the envelope,” she said.

One of her early charcoal drawings included in the sketchbooks was drawn by referencing 8 photos of Munsey, and took 24 hours to complete. The final result was a 24 x 36″ charcoal drawing, created using powdered charcoal applied to paper with a feathered tip.

To capture the spirit and character of the bears rather than an exact image, Wendlandt knew she needed to know her subject well. “I wanted to draw them big. In order for me to do that, I needed to know the subject and connect with the subject,” she said.

Wendlandt has registered to create another digital sketchbook on the bears which she’ll submit later this summer under a new theme.

Her fascination with Munsey and Boda began after hearing the story of their unlikely survival from certain death in the wild after their mother was illegally shot by an unguided hunter. The three starving and exhausted 4-month-old cubs were rescued through the efforts of hunting guide Mike Munsey and Kodiak Wildlife Biologist Nate Svoboda.

“It’s just a story of a lot of little miracles,” she said. “I was inspired by both the rescue story and the efforts taken at the Alaska Zoo to nurse the cubs back to health. In addition, I was inspired by the donations of the cubs by Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game to the Marshfield Wildwood Zoo, and the Marshfield community uniting to fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars to create the Kodiak bear exhibit which offers the bears a supportive environment with ample room to explore and mature.”

Initially, she would spend 2 hours a day, 5-7 days out of the week watching and photographing the rapidly growing cubs as a study for future artwork. On average, she commits about 14 hours a week throughout the year photographing and charting the bears’ activities and development. Her series of photography and artwork inspired by the bears is called “Survivors.”

Wendlandt has used her photos to create a number of photographic books and related merchandise, and also runs a blog about her work at imagine-that.blog. She’s happy to share her knowledge with any curious visitor of the zoo.

Through her long observation of the bears, Wendlandt has gained a unique perspective of their personalities and habits. She noticed that Boda was initially the more dominant and aggressive of the brothers, but that changed after Munsey experienced a health concern in August 2017 which led to a six-week separation to avoid opening up his stitches from surgery.

During that separation, Boda would keep vigil and make clacking sounds. Once the brothers were reunited, their relationship became more equal.

“Prior to Munsey being ill, he would have to try to sneak to eat,” she said. “The relationship since then has been 50-50.”

Wendlandt plans to continue her documentation of the bears another few years, at least until they turn 10. Munsey and Boda celebrated their fifth birthday on Feb. 21.

For more information about the sketchbook project, visit www.sketchbookproject.com.

Photos submitted by Susan Kloch Wendlandt

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Kaylin S
Author: Kaylin S

Kaylin Speth is a Marshfield native with a bachelor's degree in English from UW-Green Bay. She enjoys highlighting the many great things happening in the community and bringing to life the untold stories. Email the team at [email protected]