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Smokey Bear Traveling Art Exhibit

Smokey Bear Traveling Art Exhibit

The ODNR Division of Forestry is proud to present and share this collection of beautiful and timeless Smokey Bear artwork images. The collection is on loan to the State of Ohio from the Special Collections section of the United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Library (NAL), located in Washington DC. The NAL maintains one of the world’s largest and foremost collections related to agriculture and related sciences, including forestry.

Exhibit Schedule

The display will be exhibited at ODNR State Park Lodges across Ohio until December 2021 in an effort to bring Smokey’s image and message close to home for Ohioans and visitors across the Buckeye State:

About the Artwork

The images on display are replicas of paintings originally produced by famed US Forest Service artist Rudy Wendelin (1910-2000). Wendelin began his US Forest Service career in 1933, and in 1944 he was given the responsibility of bringing newly created wildfire prevention symbol Smokey Bear to life with his pencils, paints, brushes, and artistic prowess.

He proceeded to create hundreds of Smokey Bear representations that highlighted natural resources conservation and wildfire prevention.

Under Wendelin’s direction, Smokey grew into the beloved image and national icon that remains to this day. After a long and distinguished career, Wendelin retired from the US Forest Service in 1973.

The History of Smokey Bear

The concept of using Smokey Bear in wildfire prevention messaging dates to World War II. In 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced near the coast of Southern California and fired a volley of shells that exploded in an oil field near Santa Barbara, very close to the Los Padres National Forest. This caused fear that exploding shells in timber stands along the West Coast could easily set off raging forest fires, in addition to those already caused by lightning and people. Protection of our forests from wildfire became a matter of national importance, and a new idea was embraced: If citizens could be urged to be more careful, perhaps some of the fires could be prevented.

Smokey Bear LogoUp to that point, wildfire prevention campaigns had taken a variety of faces – forest fire caution and warning signs, Uncle Sam conveying the safety message, and in 1944, Walt Disney’s Bambi was temporarily used as a conveyor of the fire prevention message. Following the success of the deer fawn’s image for fire prevention, the US Forest Service and the Wartime Advertising Council determined that a forest animal could prominently represent and symbolize the message of wildfire prevention, and that it should be a bear. Later that year, Smokey Bear was introduced as the national symbol for wildfire prevention.

In Smokey’s early years, he took on a variety of images, but it was Rudy Wendelin who finely tuned and immortalized Smokey Bear’s likeness into the one we recognize today with his friendly demeanor, ranger hat, blue jeans, shovel, and message of Only YOU can prevent wildfires!

Smokey Bear has been a fixture around Ohio for many years, making appearances at public events, schools, and annually at the ODNR Natural Resources Park at the Ohio State Fair; he continues to greet kids by name at the Fair. Smokey works hard around the Buckeye State to convey the message of wildfire prevention to kids and adults, and to remind us that everyone plays an important part in keeping our state safe by preventing wildfires.