Themed bear show reflects artist’s life

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Mary Kavanaugh holds one of the many bears in her collection. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

Mary Kavanaugh’s voice bubbled with excitement Monday as she invited her visitors to a Christmas Eve party.

“It’ll be great,” Kavanaugh said. “They call me a lot of things, you know, but boring has never been one of them.”

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Kavanaugh’s living room Christmas displays haven’t been traditional, either. Each year, Kavanaugh shows off the stuffed bears she has collected for about 20 years, and each year she comes up with a different theme for them. One year they were skiers in a makeshift ski spa, another time she made them old-fashioned carolers.

In the past week, she’s assembled the bears into a furry showcase of her latest interests.

About 15 of the bears stand in front of the fireplace of Kavanaugh’s 927 National St. house. Some of them hold paint brushes and easels. Some sit in front of cocktail glasses. All of them remind Kavanaugh of how she’s been spending the last few years of her life painting portraits and running a bar.

“My bears are reflections of my life right now,” Kavanaugh said. “I might leave them up all year long.”

Until January, Kavanaugh owned part of The Games, a bar on the edge of the Old Mississippi River bridge in Delta, La.

“It was a bar where we wanted to have a classy atmosphere, like the bar in Cheers,’ a place where you could take your wife,” said Kavanaugh, 57, a Vicksburg native.

With the help of her art teacher, Darlene Meisenholder, Kavanaugh has re-created that climate in her living room.

On one side of her fireplace, several bears sit at a miniature bar, which Kavanaugh and Meisenholder fashioned out of cardboard boxes. Another bear, decked out in a top hat, sits at a miniature table, waiting to enjoy a drink. Beside the table, a couple of bears stand at a pool table, which features tiny billiard balls crafted by Meisenholder from polymer clay. The lone amphibian in the group, a stuffed frog, serves as bartender. Behind him, a small cabinet contains bottles of vodka and Jack Daniels.

“I love the look on the frog’s face,” Kavanaugh said. “It just says, Let me serve you some beer so I can get you out of here.'”

Moving across the living room, the display turns into a snowscape with a bear on skis, a holdover from Kavanaugh’s display of a few years ago.

On one side of the fireplace, Kavanaugh’s bears make known her love for art, an interest that brought her a first-place award in a Vicksburg Art Association show this year.

Most of the bears are named for friends of Kavanaugh who share her love for painting, like local artist Teres Saunier. Saunier’s daughter, Victoria Trichell, 8, visited Kavanaugh to see the bears Monday.

“I like the way she paints,” Trichell said. “And I like the bears.”

Meisenholder, who became Kavanaugh’s teacher last year, said her pupil’s bear display indicates her great dedication to anything she loves.

“She has such a passion for whatever she does, like art, and that shows with these bears,” Meisenholder said. “Mary Kavanaugh does everything with passion.”