The Making of Grandmother Bear Tipi

The Making of Grandmother Bear Tipi

The Making of Grandmother Bear Tipi

"With the feeling of pleasure that beauty brings forth informing our corporal and spiritual senses we become more fully embodied, connecting to the natural world in ever widening circles, expanding our consciousness into greater connection with the life force energy that runs through all of creation."

                                                                           - River Sauvageau 

I  received the commission for Grandmother Bear Tipi at the Women’s Bear Gathering on Mount Shasta in September 2019. I have been making tipis for 13 years now, and this tipi is the 29th tipi I've made. I have been   making ceremonial tipis since 2006 when I made my first one. I made it and it became part of a give-away ceremony. 

 When I received the commission in September I knew that I would not be able to complete the tipi until February or March 2020. The tipi was in process in my workroom when the order to shelter in place came in March. Synchronistically, the first day of my quarantine March 15, was also the 31st anniversary of my business, Studio Sauvageau. Grandmother Bear Tipi was made inside this HUGE collective shift that we have been going through globally. She wanted to be made at this time and will be here when we are ready to come back together again for ceremony.

Grandmother Sister Shiituii, who commissioned the tipi, talked to me about painting the tipi with red handprints to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, an issue dear to her heart.  My medicine sisters warned that we would not want to see bloody handprints around us while we were deep in ceremony. Shiituii agreed, realizing that she had not considered the final result of the women’s good intentions, and that opened the way for more. I was able to approach this sacred work in a deeper way as time and space lost meaning during this world wide Vision Quest. Grandmother Bear Tipi became my anchor in the sea of solitude.

 I found myself in great joy inside the spirit world of creating Grandmother Bear Tipi during this time of uncertainty, opening to my creativity, taking care of things around me as she was being birthed in isolation. I followed my intuition as I added symbolic elements, and the meaning of what was being made revealed itself in the doing. I communed with the Bear Women as I was cutting, stitching, drawing and painting. I could feel the healing power of the Spirit of the Bear running through us as I was working. The Bear Women have been stepping up, participating in and leading ceremonies, Dancing the Bear to heal the people. We have been stepping beyond the history of not being allowed to participate or lead because of our gender. I am grateful for this moment in time when the world was slowed way, way down and this medicine had time and space to come forth and express itself through me.



One thing that I figured out a long time ago is that following my creativity is what will always give back to me when it appears that the world seemingly has nothing for me. I carry the lineage of female empowerment, choosing, over and over again in my life, to follow my personal, and the collective, artistic and spiritual directive.  I trust what comes through me after these many decades of creative work in different fields.  I understand that what I create, what I make, has a larger impact upon people, and in the world, than I can know while I am making it. When I have the opportunity to work on pieces that are used for in ritual and for ceremony, my physical, creative, spiritual and emotional life blend as one during my creative process.


The Bear Sisters asked for bear paws on the tipi. Right away I saw them embodied in leather. I drew a design with the paw’s large pad in a soft heart shape with the 5 smaller pads and claws above. Where the tipi is stitched together with sticks, on two 6-foot long pieces of reinforced canvas, I stitched pad details in 7 double rows leather bear paws, 28 in total. The bear paws go straight up the front of the tipi above the door. On the opposite side, inside of the tipi, they are facing downwards. In effect the bear is walking up the front of the tipi, coming in through the smoke hole and walking down into the tipi. The bear paws climbing up the tipi have a fiery look, and on the other side, walking in to the tipi gently, looking like airy “heart bird” and they also have a watery aspect to them. Grandmother Bear Tipi is the spirit of the bear climbing in through the smoke hole. 

I always add a reinforcement piece in the center back, up from the hem and above. Grandma Bear came through as the first bear, a 5-foot tall appliqué of black lines painted on the canvas. She is on the back of the tipi and faces outward. She has the back of whoever is sitting in the chief seat, and is watching over those who sit inside her sacred space. She faces the West, the Spirit World. She has two plain necklaces, indicating her status as an elder who has lived a long life. Her necklaces are unadorned, representing that she letting go of the things of this world. She is in deeper and deeper connection with the Spirit World,  bridging the worlds and helping to bring the messages forth.



After making the Grandma Bear 4 smaller bears wanted to come through. They are bear mamas who are are 30" tall. The bears have a heart-shaped chest that flows into a womb and yoni below.  Each is wearing a necklace that is overlain with wild strawberries. The flower in the center, strawberry leaves the sides and berries on the outer edge. Their necklaces indicate their status as sovereign beings and represent the sweetness of life, fruit and berries, foraging for food, plant medicines and the bear’s connection to the plant world. After being with them for a few days I added twins in their wombs and then was called to paint one black and leave the other white. I wondered why one was dark and one was light and the next day, after waking from sleep, I understood that both the light and dark are born from the same place. In this time of world-wide initiation we are experiencing great polarities, moving between lightness and darkness. We need both, that is how we are made, to live both in the dark of the night and in the light of the day. As these polarities have been strongly activated so has the full spectrum of feeling and experience between them, the world over.


The Bear Women wanted stars on the tipi because the Star Knowledge is coming forth right at this time. I made a circle of stars on the smoke flaps,13 in total.The circle has 12 stars with one in the middle. They represent the 13 Moons that we women are connected to, the Star Nations, and the Sacred Hoop with our place in it, as we are each the center of our life. The mother bear in the center of the circle of stars and the central star is placed within her heart. She is our star prayer.


The next piece to add were eagles. The Eagle actives the medicine of the bear and cleans her off as she doctors the people. The Eagle has the perspective from above as she flies over the earth and watches the Bear walking below. The Eagle is at the top of the smoke flaps, at the highest place on the tipi, her beak facing out and her wings frame the circle of stars on each side.

Towards the end I realized that the doorway needed gatekeepers. I placed the other two smaller bears next to the door and it just didn’t feel right. My sister Gen saw it and said “They need to be big”. Aha!!  I knew that here, at the doorway, at the Gateway of Life, is where the male bear is in partnership with the female bear. Here I made the biggest bears, the ones in full power, in partnership, two six-foot tall bears. The female has a necklace that represents Water and the male has a bear claw necklace with a medallion that represents Fire. The two mama bears are on the door, one is on the outside and the other is facing the inside. She is the only bear you see inside the tipi. 

Grandmother Bear Tipi first “caught air” on May first, May Day, one of the 8 holy days of the Celtic calendar. Known as Beltane, it is a day when fires are put out and new fires are lit and it is a day celebrating fertility. Grandma Bear was erected with love and prayers and with a blessing ceremony. My 80 year old aunt, artist, ceremonialist and great-grandmother Lynn, brought her big drum which we placed in the middle, where we usually have the fire. She blessed the tipi, us and all those to come with the vibration of the big drum.

Grandmother Bear Tipi has 2 Eagles, 7 bears, 26 stars and 28 bear paws. She steps in with 28 footprints into her 28-foot home that acknowledges her connection to the 28 day Moon Cycle that we women are heir to.  She was commissioned by the women, made by a woman, for the women. She is the doctor, the hospital, our home, our school, our spaceship and our grandmother’s nurturing and protective embrace. 








1 comment

  • Liza Briem : May 31, 2023

    really a moving experience . so blessed to know you and to have been able to walk with you for a while . really powerful work and a very powerful speaker . love your pictures in the making , love Liza

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