Motorised bicycle and spare mud flap, metal / plastic / rubber / nylon / sequin / fabric / foam, modified and used by Richard Lee, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, [1995-2000]
This bicycle represents the relationship between self-confessed Sydney eccentric Richard Lee and his beloved chihuahua Edward Bear. Its significance stems from its association with the familiar pair who brought fun and eccentricity, sequins and glamour to Sydney suburbs, suburban shopping centres and railway stations between 1989 and 2004.
As a public figure Lee experienced vilification and hatred but chose to promote tolerance, harmony and enjoyment. This is particularly exemplified in the Christmas house, which fuses a variety of cultures and religions. Lee said of this house that he was "trying to meld our societies together, Chinese people would come up and talk to me, everyone was having more fun, not just us."
Lee appears to have relished his public profile, particularly the opportunity it gave him to meet people. Lee and Edward Bear generally elicited a favourable reaction. Their eccentricity and playfulness often eliminated barriers and enabled strangers to interact. Lee described Edward Bear as bringing "so much pleasure to so many people".
There was a strong bond between Lee and his dog. Thus the bicycle and its accessories exemplify the important role of pet animals, particularly in the lives of people who live alone.
Richard Lee customised a store-built bicycle to enable his dog Edward Bear to travel with him everywhere he went. Lee added a two-stroke rotary engine, front and rear suspension, and panniers. The suspension was installed to provide a smoother ride for his dog, while the panniers were added to the back to support the dog houses and as storage space for Lee's shopping. The engine was needed to pull the combined weight of the bike, panniers and dog house.
Lee decorated the bike himself, usually in Willoughby Park. He used adhesive product 'Hard as Nails' to attach decorations and ornaments to the bike. The bicycle was colour-coordinated and decorated to match Edward Bear's Winter House. However, after Edward Bear died, Lee spray-painted the bike black and removed many of the decorative items.
For 14 years Sydney eccentric Richard Lee and his beloved chihuahua Edward Bear travelled daily to the park and on excursions to Bondi and Manly by train. Lee created elaborately decorated dog houses which he attached to the back of his motorised bicycle so that Edward could accompany him wherever he went.
Lee and Edward Bear were familiar figures around Sydney. Children were especially attracted to Edward and his ornate homes (in particular the light which worked). Lee often told stories and gave children small gifts of plastic dolls' pegs, which he called "fairy pegs". These were kept in a sequined bag hanging from the bicycle's handlebars. The 25 km/h speed limit imposed on Lee's bicycle enabled pedestrians and office workers to view Edward Bear sitting in his sequined dog houses. The unconventional pair were well known to local shopkeepers, Mormon preachers and St Vincent de Paul workers.
Lee created thematic dog houses for Edward Bear to travel in. During winter Edward was transported around Sydney in a Swiss chalet complete with its own satellite dish. Edward Bear's summer dwelling was a block of units populated with mini-eccentrics including surfers and "ladies of ill-repute" and featuring an American Embassy and Church of Latter Day Saints tabernacle. The tabernacle was included especially for the Mormons preachers who came to know Lee and Edward Bear. A Christmas house was transformed to incorporate different religious iconography. Lee was inspired to include Chinese New Year decorations by the many Chinese people living in his suburb of Chatswood. Lee said of this house that he was "trying to meld our societies together, Chinese people would come up and talk to me, everyone was having more fun, not just us."
Lee often decorated the houses using ideas or pieces given to him by passers-by or friends met on their travels. The houses include safety features like battery-operated flashing lights for night cycling and environmentally-friendly solar-panelled air-conditioning. The latter was installed along with a water bed for Edward Bear's comfort.
Lee's patriotism and political views are represented by Boxing Kangaroo toys and flags, an Australian flag, an American flag, and an Israeli flag, which he removed after many negative comments. Generally people reacted favourably to Lee and Edward Bear; however there were exceptions such as a group of young men from the Chatswood area who vilified Lee.
Edward Bear died in May 2004 aged 15 years. After his death Lee painted his bicycle black and removed many of the decorative items in tribute to his cherished dog. According to Lee those who regularly saw the pair were genuinely upset to hear of Edward Bear's death. Lee wished to donate these objects to the Museum so that Edward Bear's memory would live on. "To me it's very, very crucial that you people [the Powerhouse Museum] take it. That he's remembered in the future, he brought so much attention and everyone loved him so much."
Richard Lee and Edward Bear were featured in the State Library of New South Wales exhibition "Sydney Eccentrics: A Celebration of Individuals in Society", 17 April to 29 August 1999, the accompanying "Good Weekend" article, a 2000 Fox documentary and many other articles.