PARIS, ID – The Bear Lake area is a natural place for an artist to make a living carving bears. So it is with Paris, Idaho artist Kirk Topham, the man at Beehive Bears Custom Carving located at 757 North Main in Paris. His work is displayed in businesses and parks throughout Garden City and surrounding areas.
“I did some bear carvings for a real estate company in Garden City and people started coming by and stop to take pictures next to them,” the father of three said. “It wasn’t too long before another realtor, seeing the people stop at a competitor’s place, called to have me carve some bears for him.”
Topham said it’s all about getting people to stop at your business. Businesses want people to stop and spend time at their place and the bears make that happen.
Cody’s Gastro Garage in Garden City and Paris both have at least one of his pieces in front of their business. One bear is dressed like a ski bum with sunglasses, the other is holding a sign. It is not unusual to see tourists taking photos by the large sculptures.
The Bear River Heritage Area website describes Topham as a master carver who has always been an artist, whose interest in wildlife and carving has led him to create the now-famous chainsaw bears.
“Kirk’s whimsical carvings of bears and other wildlife can be seen all around the region, and in his showroom in Paris, Idaho,” the website said.
Bears are definitely the bulk of the work he does in the valley, but others are finding him for his skills as a sculptor.
“I carved some animals for a dentist office in Jordan Landing,” he said. “I carved sharks, whales and other aquatic animals.”
“I’ve been carving for about 20 years now,” Topham added. “I consider it a blessing to live and work in the Bear Lake area of Idaho.”
When the Pocatello native moved to the area 18 years ago, he thought he would stay a year, but he has been there ever since.
Topham began carving wood using four different sizes of chainsaws and a grinder. Gradually, he changed. He found a carving mix made of concrete and some additives.
Now instead of chainsaws for sculpting he uses trowels and other cement tools to make his bears.
“I use the properties in cement and mix it with other things until it becomes clay like,” he said. “It dries like cement and then I paint it, sometimes using an airbrush, I think it looks pretty good.”
He said the project time and price changes depending on how much a customer is willing to spend.
“I can do something quick in an hour or two or spend more than a month,” Topham said. “It depends on the detail and money the customer wants to spend.”
Garden City bought some of his benches and put them in their new city park. He was worried his work would saturate the area and people would quit calling him, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Early on, Topham went to art shows to push his work, but it seems like he is so busy with jobs that he hasn’t been going to shows lately.
“I love the outdoors and I love what I do,” he said. “However, the business part is a pain in the butt.”