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Boreal Community Media

The Superior National Forest Gunflint District Office hosts historic Smokey Bear Paintings by Rudolph (Rudy) Wendelin

Mar 25, 2024 09:09AM ● By Content Editor
All photos by Laura Durenberger-Grunow

By Laura Durenberger-Grunow - Boreal Community Media - March 22, 2024

Editor's note (3/25/2024): Due to the winter storm, the Superior National Forest Gunflint Ranger District Office is closed.

Community members and art lovers gathered at the Superior National Forest Gunflint District Office in Grand Marais on Friday evening for a special art show to view 19 historic Smokey Bear paintings by artist Rudolph (Rudy) Wendelin, in honor of Smokey's 80th birthday this year. 

According to the National Forest Service, the Superior National Forest was one of only "14 national forests and grasslands in the Nation" to host the paintings. In addition to the Gunflint District Office, the Supervisor's Office in Duluth and the Kawishiwi District Office also are included. 

The colorful paintings were displayed along with descriptions of the artwork, the year when Wendelin originally painted it, and the year when each one was initially published. Most of the paintings on display at the Gunflint District Office originated in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Also on display were other original paintings by Wendelin, not of Smokey Bear but of landscapes from when the artist visited the area (he was from Kansas, but enjoyed the BWCAW and other local sites). These paintings hang permanently at the Gunflint District Office. 

While Wendelin did not come up with the idea for Smokey Bear, his depiction of
 the character was a more humanized and "softer" version which "Made the character more appealing to children, to whom much of the fire prevention campaign was directed. His paintings spanned his career with the U.S. Forest Service from 1949 to 1973 and continued into his retirement." The artist died in 2000 after complications from a car accident. 

To learn more about Smokey Bear and his role within the US Forest Service over the last 80 years, visit the USFS site here.

The traveling exhibit at the Gunflint District Office will be available for viewing during normal business hours (8 am - 4 pm) on Monday, March 25. The paintings will then travel to the Kawishiwi District Office in Ely from March 26-29.

 Smokey Bear welcomed guests to the special art show on Friday, March 22. 

The paintings had a variety of messages and tones. This particular piece is titled "Wait, you Forgot Something".  

 A variety of scenes were on display by artist Rudolph Wendelin of Smokey Bear and Friends. 

Original Wendelin paintings of landscapes from the BWCAW and surrounding areas lined the walls of the Gunflint District Office and are part of the permanent artwork. 

 Kids activities, refreshments, a raffle, Smokey swag, and even an appearance by the bear himself were all part of the special art show on Friday evening. 

 A special BWCAW Smokey Bear drawing by Wendelin. 


Find tips and resources for preventing forest and wildfires from Smokey himself here.

To learn more about the Rudy Wendelin Gallery with the US Forest Service, visit the USDA website here.

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here