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Central Park

Dancing Bear Statue

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This fanciful bronze sculpture is part of a pair of niche sculptures; the other is Dancing Goat to the south, created by Frederick George Richard Roth (1872–1944) and installed at the Central Park Zoo in 1937.

Frederick G. R. Roth was born in Brooklyn on April 28, 1872. He studied art privately in Vienna and also at the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin. By the time he completed his studies in 1894, he had already embarked on an active professional career as a sculptor. It was his Roman Chariot group at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo (where President William McKinley was assassinated) that first garnered him significant attention and placed him at the forefront of America’s young sculptors.

Following this success, he was much in demand. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired a series of small animal sculptures that Roth crafted early in the 20th century. A figure of a polar bear by Roth was exhibited at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, for which he received a silver medal. In 1910, Roth modeled a horse as part of Augustus Lukemen’s equestrian composition, Kit Carson, displayed in Trinidad, Colorado. At the Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, Roth collaborated with Alexander Stirling Calder (1870–1945) and Leo Lentelli (1879–1962) on the celebrated sculptural groups, Nations of the East and West.

Roth’s talents earned him membership in many arts organizations, including the National Academy of Design (1902), the Society of American Artists (1903) and the National Sculpture Society (1910), where he later served as the organization’s president. Roth was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 1924 Speyer Prize from the National Academy of Design for his portrait of the celebrated Alaskan sled dog, Balto. This much-beloved statue was unveiled in Central Park on December 16, 1925.

In 1934, Roth was hired through the Works Progress Administration as the chief sculptor for Parks. In that year, the new Central Park Zoo opened and Roth oversaw a team of artisans who carved the limestone animal reliefs which adorn the animal houses. The following year, the same team worked on the sculptural embellishments for the Prospect Park Zoo and in 1936, Roth completed the granite statues of figures from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which stand at the center of the Sophie Irene Loeb Fountain in Central Park’s James Michael Levin Playground.

In the spring of 1937, Dancing Goat and Dancing Bear were placed in basins that flanked Kelly’s Cafeteria at the western terrace of the zoo. Cast at Roman Bronze Works in Brooklyn, the sculptures serve as decorative fountains, with water spraying from five small frogs at the base of the bear and from five ducks at the feet of the goat. In 1988, when the Central Park Zoo reopened, the cafeteria was removed to make way for the snow macaque island and pond, while the sculptures were relocated to niches near the south and north entrances to the zoo. In 1993, the Central Park Conservancy refurbished the statues. They continue to delight park and zoo visitors, young and old alike.

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