San Francisco-based street artist fnnch added splashes of color and character to The Castro's boarded up businesses earlier this week, painting eight COVID-19-themed honey bears onto various planks of plywood that now line the muted neighborhood.

An interesting, somewhat sobering fact: the state's last known California grizzly bear, a subspecies of brown bear that once thrived along the west coast, was spoted in Sequoia National Park in 1924. And while rogue trophy hunting and rampant deforestation led to the demise of California's former largest terrestrial predator, one local creative is adamant about keeping San Francisco alive with bears — albeit painted two-dimensional ones, which includes eight new coronavirus-inspired honey bears in The Castro.

"I designed the Mask Bear and the Soap Bear as a response to COVID-19, but once I had the idea to put a mask on all of the bears, I knew I was onto something," public artist fnnch said to Hoodline's Steven Bracco about their newest series before explaining a bit of the installation process. "When possible, I try to put a bear on a storefront that is relevant to that business — Wine Bear on a wine bar, Pizza Bear on a pizzeria, Baker Bear on a bakery, and so forth."

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Over the last few days I have been wheat-pasting “Mask Bears” onto boarded up storefronts in San Francisco. They are now in the Castro, Pac Heights, and Hayes Valley. To me, wearing a mask is about caring for others. A mask won’t prevent you from getting sick, but if you are sick and don’t know it — contagious but not symptomatic — it can help prevent the infection from spreading. We are all in this together, and we need to get out of this together. These boarded up stores are depressing. I long to sit down in a restaurant again, get my hair cut again, go to the art supply store again. But until that happens, we might as well use the boards as canvas for art. Instead of bringing our spirits down, they should lift our spirits up. There are now 13 different Mask Bears out and about. If you are feeling cooped up, consider going out for a walk and seeing if you can spot them all! I hope this finds everyone safe and sane. Photo Credit: @andrewrettmann #fnnch

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The honey bears — which fnnch says represent "care, positively, inclusiveness, and community" — not only serve as welcomed eye-candy, but also as a public health reminder to wear masks and wash your hands regularly.

"Wearing a mask is about caring for others," they add. "A mask won’t prevent you from getting sick, but if you are sick and don’t know it — contagious but not symptomatic — it can help prevent the infection from spreading."

Aside from the nods to hygiene and sanitation practices, fnnch hopes the bears brighten up the days of onlookers as we continue going through these straining times: "I hope that someone sees a bear and feels just a bit better about their day[,] or that they see a bear and feel a bit more connected to their community."

Hoodline has listed each of the bear's location, which you can read below:

  • Knobs (432 Castro St.),
  • Qbar (456 Castro St.)
  • MudPuppy's (536 Castro St.)
  • The Sausage Factory (517 Castro St.)
  • Nazario’s Pizza (4077 18th St.)
  • The Mix (4086 18th St.)
  • Moby Dick (4049 18th St.)
  • 4024 18th St.

In other quasi-related faunal fun, here's a video of a rockhopper penguin jumping down the stairs at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium — because serotonin releases.

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Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons