I have made a lot of teddy bears over the years. My friend Bettina Groh actually keeps track of how many she has made (over 6,000), but I have no idea how many of mine are out there. Bettina has continued to make and sell bears while I have been back at the office, so I am sure she is way ahead of me! One thing most bear makers have in common is that we don’t keep many bears that we have designed and made.
Reconnecting with Bear Lovers
One of my favorite designs from my past is a 9-inch tall open mouthed bear designed with doll-like proportions so that I could easily dress him/her. My friend Marijke alerted me that one of these was up for sale on Bear Pile a while back. I had sold this teddy bear to Diana Helfand who had a shop, Nana’s Bears, in Hawaii years ago. I reconnected with Diana, and my bear, named Katie for my oldest child, was soon back home! It was great to reconnect with a fellow bear lover and get my little bear back.
Open Mouth Bears
I have always been fascinated by bears with open mouths. Many are not done well. It is not easy to pull off, especially on a small bear. When I joined the Iowa Teddy Bear Makers’ Guild, I met artist Nan Wright who specialized in bears with open mouths and leather tongues! Perhaps Nan influenced me to give it a try. I haven’t made many bears with tongues, notably one for my friend Janny depicting her son who always had his little tongue out while concentrating.
These teddy bears were all made as individuals using different fur and dressing them differently. I maybe made a dozen of them at most back then. There were a couple of witches, some in costumes I made, and some in vintage doll clothing. I made Katie’s dress. A testament to how well Diana kept her, Katie’s dress is just as crisply pressed as when I put her in the box to travel to Hawaii.
Dolls vs Bears
The whole reason why I changed from making dolls to making bears in the first place was highly influenced by the fact that bears didn’t need to be dressed. However, I enjoy finding vintage doll clothing that will fit the bears in my collection and dressing them for different occasions. I used to make cute clothes for my kids when they were little and still find fabric that I want to work with, so, lacking grandchildren, I sometimes must dress my bears.
Would I Keep Examples in the Future?
I haven’t been making many bears since the economy tanked and bear shows and bear shops started disappearing. I have a steady income, so selling bears is more a source of “play money” than necessity these days. Without that constant need to make bears for multiple shops and 10 – 12 bear shows a year, I haven’t had the need to make multiples of the same bear. This makes it more difficult to keep an example of each design for my own archives. Since I haven’t worked very hard at marketing what I make, there are unsold bears around the house. When I do have a sales opportunity, I confess there are some that I hold back. So, if I see a bear I made long ago come up on the secondary market, will I try to get it? Of course, I will!
I haven’t posted since Easter for several reasons. First, all of my favorite shows which I chronicle on here were cancelled! I was sad at first. One after another of the highlights of the season were denied. We were forced to leave the office and work from home. As someone who does social media for a community bank, we were BUSY! Our CEO was interviewed by the news media. Our bankers were busy round the clock handling the Payroll Protection Plan loans. Our customers needed reassuring and we needed to adapt to our lobbies being closed to the public for a couple of months. My social media content calendar was full and subject to sudden changes consistent with the times. I didn’t have much chance to think about bears or Santas or making things.
My garden became my focus away from my computer. I did, however, manage to find a little mascot to add to my collection.
Miniature Steiff Bear
This is a Steiff miniature with the best face! He was probably 1950s vintage and retains his button in the ear. I have a lot of these little fellows, but this guy’s face won my heart and he has kept me company by my computer while I have been working from home. You can still see the thread where his chest tag was attached. I would say he has pretty much all of his fur, so maybe wasn’t a child’s pocket companion! My friend Marijke sent me a package of goodies with this little chair included., so he sits here like someone’s toy waiting for the owner to come home and hug him.
If you position him carefully, he can stand by himself.
A lot of times, these little fellows have lost their fur, had their noses kissed off, had their buttons removed by protective parents, or have been squished into an odd pose from being stored away in a box or drawer. While this gives them a lot of charm, this guy is perfect. He was a lucky find and brought me a lot of joy in a dark time.
He won’t be relegated to a group display any time soon!
The pandemic of 2020 has turned our world upside down. It’s been hard to find bright spots in all of the uncertainty.
Teddy Bears Give Comfort
It’s well known that teddy bears give comfort to young and old in stressful times. It’s why organizations like Good Bears of the World exist to provide teddy bears to emergency responders of all kinds – police, firefighters, medical professionals – to comfort people in distress. Teddy bears are a universal symbols of love.
Bears in Windows
I was heartened recently to hear of people putting teddy bears in their windows so that children walking or riding by could spot them. In this weird time in history, teddy bears are contributing to the delight and distraction of children in a massive bear hunt across the world!
Of course, there are bears to be seen at our house. I am going to try to mix it up a bit since a lot of people walk by our house and I am seeing a lot more families strolling by since people are staying at home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Perhaps my bears can be a point of light in this darkness.
Making a Neighborhood Bear Hunt Fun
Children are going to see a variety of bears on their neighborhood bear hunts. To spice things up, families can try a variation of license plate games we used to play on car trips. Assign points for different kinds of bears they might see based on rarity. For example:
|Type of Bear
|Traditional Stuffed Brown/Tan bear
|Unusual Colored Bear (Red, Blue, Green…)
|Carved Wood Bear
Of course, the prize for the most points could be just the satisfaction of finding the most bears, but wouldn’t it be fun to reward the hunt with some kind of bear? Gummy bears, bear stickers, or some other teddy bear trinket would do.
You might want to make it a family affair, especially if you have small children. When someone spies a bear, take a photo of it and print them out to make a craft when you get home.
Other activities might be a teddy bear picnic in the back yard, simple teddy bear face cutouts that children can color, or a teddy bear parade around the neighborhood.
Teddy Bear Collecting Starts with the Young at Heart
Those of you who know me or have followed me for a while know that my whole bear hunt/teddy bear journey started when I was very young. A lot of our future collecting is based on things we were attracted to, loved, treasured or wished for when we were young.
I hope these children remember the bear hunts and continue the tradition for generations to come.
When I found out that I was going to be at a board meeting in Kansas City on my birthday this year, I figured I’d better buy myself a new bear. Sounds good, right? I would have bought myself a new birthday bear anyway!
This happy fellow is a 14 inch tall chocolate brown fully articulated Steiff mohair bear. I am not familiar with this fellow. He seems to be a cross between a Teddy Baby and a Zotty. I collect Teddy Baby, but not Zotty. I am a sucker for open mouth bears done well, and this one is done well. He’s in perfect condition and has a beautiful growler. If you know anything about this guy, please let me know. Steiff EAN# 008504
My board meeting went well. It’s always great to see this group of women. I did not have time to do any antiquing, which was sad. It was just before we were really aware that this pandemic was going to change our lives dramatically. Many of the antique shows that I look forward to in the spring have been cancelled. Bear hunting is going to be difficult.
My partner in crime, Lucy to my Ethel (whomever is driving is Lucy for the day), Linda Dorr and I love going to the Midwest Antique & Art and The Collectors Eye Shows in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It happens twice a year, spring and fall. On October 20, we set out bright and early and were some of the first ones in the door!
It seems like there are always more bears in the fall, although the hunting is pretty good in the spring, too. There are also lots of fun things that go well with bears like rocking horses and horses on wheels, other animals, quilts, children’s furniture, and this ice cream mold.
We were especially drawn to this blue-eyed bear at the first booth we visited. I nearly brought him home with me. He was in good shape and looked especially good with the blue and white quilts hung behind him. (Those were also tempting!) I have blue and white quilts. I think I might have bought one at this show in a previous year.
Anyway, upon doing a little research we believe this might be a (blank) bear.
The most wonderful old Steiff bear we have ever seen was at Scott Tagliapietra’s booth. I think he wanted $4,000 for it. It was pristine as far as we could tell. I actually got to hold it. This is not something you would ordinarily see at a midwest antique show, but Scott brings a lot of wonderful pieces. I once bought a tiny Steiff squirrel from him, but generally, his stuff is beyond my pocketbook. Most of it is displayed in a huge locked glass-front cabinet.
There were a lot of American stick bears and the like scattered throughout the show. It’s fun to spy these treasures perched on a tiny chair or tucked into a primitive cupboard. It really makes the show so cozy and friendly when bears abound!
There were many more, but these are the most interesting. There was even a bear made from a feed sack in one booth and a beautiful new Steiff One in a Million cinnamon bear. Something for everyone!
As markets took a nosedive about a decade ago, many shops offering high quality artist-made and manufactured collectible soft sculpture were forced out of business. Do you ever wonder what happens to those shops and their inventory?
I know of some that had big going out-of-business sales. Many still had leftover stock that they continue to try to sell online or store in their basements.
The inventory from one shop, Verna Mae’s in Greenwood, Nebraska is up for sale now. Verna closed her doll and bear shop, which was housed in an old brick school building, a number of years ago. I shopped her going-out-of-business sale and got some great bears, but she still had an overwhelming amount of inventory when she closed the doors for the last time.
An organization, One Whole Heart Ministry out of Omaha, bought the building and its contents. They are now in the process of sorting, researching, pricing, photographing, and writing descriptions of each item and listing them on eBay (omaharma). Upon contacting the seller, I learned that they are open to shoppers by appointment and would like to be open to the public on a limited basis in the future. Once the inventory has been sold, they have plans to renovate the building for use in their ministry.
I traveled to Nebraska on July 1, 2017 to meet up with Craig from One Whole Heart Ministry who showed me around. You could see their task was daunting. There were still shelves and shelves of teddy bears and collectibles in one big room and many dolls in cases in another. As we looked through I did my best to advise him on what would be the most sought after pieces, current values, and a little history on some of the artist bears and antiques. It took me over an hour to go through things. I did locate one bear and one needle-felted Santa that I had made. In the end, I picked out four bears by artists I have known and admired over the years who are no longer making bears. I was happy to get them and they are in perfect condition.
One of the ones I picked was a little bear by Anne Cranshaw. Anne was one of the original members of the Iowa Teddy Bear Makers’ Guild before she moved out of state. I bought the bear on the right in the photo. The one on the left, I believe is offered on eBay as I write this post. They are sweet little squishy bears with cute little smiles. My children were still small when Anne and I were both going to shows, so at the time, I was not buying bears for a collection of my own.
The other three that I chose were by Janet Reeves, Betsy Reum and Mac Pohlen. Again, when they were making bears, I was not able to have a collection of my own, although when Betsy retired after the last Teddy Bear Reunion in the Heartland in 2010, I was able to add one of her small bears to my hug.
The following are some more things I saw during my visit. It would be impossible to show everything. There is so much inventory left. But, watch omaharma on eBay for more listings!
The first is a limited edition Steiff teddy bear workshop. It is wonderful. We didn’t figure out all of the accessories that make this piece so detailed, but it looks like everything is there and in mint condition. This is probably the single most valuable piece in the collection. It includes a bear in an apron and two smaller bears.
Tucked away on one shelf, I found an elderly Schoenhut donkey! There aren’t very many antiques in here, so I wonder where he came from. His paint appears to be rubbed off like he was played with a lot.
In addition to collector bears, there are quite a few suitable for play, so if you need a gift for a child, you can probably find one here! This photo is of a group of dressed bears any little one would love!
There are lots of teddy bear tea sets, cups and saucers, figurines, etc. from the store’s inventory. I saw a big group of Cherished Teddy figurines and lots of Winnie the Pooh items.
On Sunday, March 19, teddy bear artist, friend and mentor, Steve Schutt passed away after a long illness. He had a number of health problems over the years and had retired from bear-making. A former art teacher and avid puppeteer, he was the founder of the Iowa Teddy Bear Makers’ Guild and the Teddy Bear Reunion in the Heartland in his hometown of Clarion, Iowa. He asked me to work with him to produce one last Teddy Bear Reunion for June, 2015. Despite our hard work, his health was a determining factor in cancelling that event.
A gentle and humble man, Steve inspired us to create art through his teaching and example. Like many others, he helped me to enter the crazy world of collectable artist teddy bears.
I took this photo of him two years ago when I helped him clean out his studio in preparation for selling his house. It was a difficult time for him, but despite his pain and frustration, to the world, he presented his gracious smiling self.
He asked me to continue the Teddy Bear Reunion in the Heartland tradition in the Des Moines area. If you knew Steve, you would know that it was hard to refuse him. I said yes and Prim Folk Fest is a result of that promise.
I can only hope to live up to a fraction of Steve’s vision and familiar charge to “Be Magic!”
I haven’t done counted cross-stitch embroidery for many years due to a problem with my wrists and not being able to see where the stitches go anymore. My vision has been improving lately, and my hands aren’t as bad as they used to be, either, so I decided to try a small project. I discovered that I can do it as long as I don’t work too long in a session. I made this little pillow tuck using a pattern from a magazine and altering it a bit. It kind of set the tone for the family room display.
I mixed it up a bit this year. Usually I have a tall skinny white tree in the corner by the fireplace that displays my collection of Steiff Christmas ornaments. Alas, the Steiff ornaments never made it out of their baskets, but maybe next year I will figure out a place for the white tree.
Bruce finally fixed my four foot tall feather tree which had somehow had the trunk broken and had been out of commission for awhile. I started to paint my picture with that. I love feather trees and have since I used to play with the one in my Grandma and Grandpa Tanner’s attic. Mostly I have reproductions, but they are artist-made, as I like!
I placed the tree in a chippy white galvanized jardiniere that I purchased from Joe Carter at Broad Street Market in Story City, IA several years ago. I had been using it to hide the plastic pot of my amaryllis each year at the office, but it was flaking off all over and I decided it needed to go home!
Around the Tree
I chose a quilt with a primitive palette to cover some small trunks for elevating the feather tree. This coordinated with the big sitting Arnett’s Santa who took up residence on a little off-white metal stool. I love these little stools with the curved backs for supporting teddy bears and cloth dolls. This one was a purchase from The Picker Knows.
Handmade or Vintage Ornaments
I started decorating my feather tree with only spun cotton ornaments. I added two this year – a Westie and a little girl bear from Trish Lewsader of Lucky Duck Art. Still I didn’t have enough. So I added a candy container bear by Terri Larson, some cross-stitch ornaments I had made years ago, papier mache ornament by Janny Miller and some vintage mercury glass balls.
An old cubby piece that I got years ago from the Rusty Pumpkin and you have seen me use before came out of hiding and I filled some of the spaces with German stick-legged putz sheep. A favorite feather tree design pillow tuck filled one cubby and I used LED candles in others. A small green feather tree, some books, and an LED candle in a silver bowl topped the cubbies. Since I had used red bound copies of Hitty and A Child’s Garden of Verses, I included a little bisque jointed doll. Like Hitty was at times, she is naked.
Adding some dimension are a candy container Santa and a papier mache angelby Janny Miller. I got the candy container Santa and the little bisque doll at the Des Moines Doll, Teddy Bear and Toy Show.
More of the sheep flock and assorted candles inhabited another set of cubbies on the mantel beside a large Santa by Christy Robb that was a new addition this year.
The Stockings Were Hung
Instead of cloth stockings, I hung a group of wooden stocking stretchers that I collected from an estate sale. The Arnett’s Santa is holding three little dolls: A dollie bear by Joel Hoy, an Izannah repro by Judi Hunziker, and a Robert Raikes Hitty.
Those Little Red Santas!
Finally, on the mantel, I used my chippy white medicine cabinet to display my little 1940’s Japanese Santas. I hung a red berry candle ring wreath on the knob and a red prim bear by Judy Mathis stands guard. The grungy electric candle that I bought on a trip to Winterset, IA has a built-in timer! Best candle innovation ever! I set them to burn 5 hours in the evenings and they have lasted for months without a battery change.