The bronze dancing bears just inside Central Park

Just off Fifth Avenue at 79th Street in Central Park is a small playground. Step inside, and try to resist the charm of these three enormous bronze bears.

“Group of Bears” has been at the Pat Hoffman Friedman playground since 1990. Cast 30 years earlier, this whimsical sculpture is the work of Paul Manship.

If the bears look familiar, its because Manship is the sculptor behind some of Central Park’s most beloved bronze animal statues. Those are his dancing goats and frolicking boy on top of the Lehman Gates (above) at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo.

Manship also designed the Osborn Gates (below), which feature bronze vignettes inspired by Aesop’s fables. Dedicated in 1953, these gates stood at the entrance of a playground on the northern side the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the 1970s, the playground was torn down to expand the museum, and Manship’s animal-themed gates sat in storage—until they were brought back to the park and installed at the Ancient Playground in 2009.

Not all of Manship’s work has a child-friendly, fairy-tale kind of feel. He’s the sculptor whose Prometheus marks the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

[Third photo: Centralparknyc.org; Fourth photo: Wikipedia]

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18 Responses to “The bronze dancing bears just inside Central Park”

  1. keenanpatrick Says:

    Do you know where the bears were in the interim between being cast and installation?

  2. The bronze dancing bears just inside Central Park | Real Estate Marketplace Says:

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  3. ksbeth Says:

    oh, i love these!

  4. The bronze dancing bears just inside Central Park | News for New Yorkers Says:

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  5. The "Surviving A Fall Onto the Subway Tracks" Edition Says:

    […] you don’t know Paul Manship’s name, you’ve seen his work. His sculptures inhabit Central Park like the “Group of Bears” or the gates to the […]

  6. petey Says:

    i learned to ride a bike in the playground behind the osborne gates when they used to be on the other side of the transverse, before the expansion for the temple of dendur.

  7. Kenny Says:

    ‘Prometheus’?… I always thought that was David Bowie.

  8. Ginny McAleer Poleman Says:

    There is also another bronze casting of this sculpture within the Met.

    From the site:
    In 1932, Manship modeled three bears as individual figures for the Paul J. Rainey Memorial Gateway at the Bronx Zoo. In 1939, he regrouped the figures to face forward—the seated bear on the left, the standing bear in the center, and the walking bear on the right. This large Group of Bears was cast in 1963 and stood for over twenty years on the grounds of Manship’s house near Gloucester, Massachusetts. Like many of his animal sculptures, it is simplified in form, with just enough detail to capture the distinctive personalities of the three bears. The sculptor’s highly personal style evolved from his study of the art of preclassical Greece, medieval Europe, and the Far East.

  9. keenanpatrick Says:

    Good one ! Kenny. And Thank you Ginny for info. Did the city or Central Park Conservancy pay for the bears and the Met gate? How much?

  10. MizScarlettNY Says:

    You gotta have art, all you really need is art…

  11. Lee Gelber Says:

    Paul Manship also did the sculptures on the promenade level at the rink – Maiden and Youth

  12. Tom B Says:

    Thanks E. Never knew any of this.
    I wonder if we will ever see Jeff Koons Art in Central Park? Like the balloon dogs or Popeye.

  13. David H Lippman Says:

    These I didn’t know about.

  14. Jonathan Caswell Says:

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    DANCING BEARS? I WAS UNAWARES!

  15. The hidden sundial in a Central Park sculpture | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] work of Paul Manship, who created the Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center along with several whose whimsical bronze animals also found in Central […]

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