Monday 27 June 2011

What exactly is an 'Artist Bear'?

I love finding time to meander through the annals of teddy bear history and to stroll along my personal teddy bear 'Memory Lane'.  Sunday afternoon was absolutely glorious, so I tucked myself under the sun parasol with a cool drink to hand and a stack of teddy bear publications to browse.

  Sadly, the 'Hugglets Teddy Bear Magazine' is no longer published.

The question 'What is an Artist Bear' has been hotly debated by 'teddy bear artists', for as long as I can remember - probably since the term was first coined in the US, back in the 1970's.  The topic still raises its controversial head with regular monotony some forty years later, with bear makers/designers/artists becoming hot under the collar as they staunchly defend their own interpretations.  In case you are curious, I am a bear 'artist' who much prefers to call herself a teddy bear 'designer' when pushed to define what I do, simply because this definition sits most comfortably with me, given that my drawing skills are on a par with those of the average four year old ...

So, after a rather magnificent heap of 'bruhaha' (a wonderful term I have recently coined from a bear artist friend!) among teddy bear 'artists' in response to a recently published magazine article on this subject, I had to smile when I opened a magazine binder yesterday and came across an old Hugglets magazine dating back to Summer 1993 ... eighteen long bear-making summers ago. Back then, I was still dreaming about launching myself into the magical world of teddy bear artistry as a bona fide 'bear artist', so on a hot summer's day yesterday, I must admit page 21, titled 'What is an Artist Bear,' made me smile. The first definition had been thoughtfully provided by the lovely lady who was kind enough to give me my first leg into the bear business way back in 1994 -  Michelle Chambers of the Rochester Teddy Bear Shop stated, "For a bear to come under the category of an Artist Bear, it should not be mass produced, but created in a cottage industry environment.  The bear artist is also someone who can turn bear making into a fine art, so that An Artist Bear is a bear with individuality and, most importantly, it has a unique style".

  1993 feature, 'What is an Artist Bear?'

Reading further on, Janet Clark of Teddystyle, a leading light in our world of teddy bear artistry, agreed by saying, "I don't even know that I'm an artist myself, that's up to other people to say .... a good bear maker can put a good face on a bear, but an artist can make that face come to life".  Maddie Janes, another well respected bear maker of that era, went on to say, "If you're a real teddy bear artist, you don't just have one pattern you keep making in different sizes ... you're making new patterns all the time and using new components."

A 'Chiltern Memory' created for me by Pam Howells in the early 90's

UK teddy bear royalty Pamela Ann Howells, chief designer for the Chiltern Toy Company for a decade from the 50's onwards and still creating today, fifty years later, under her own 'Bears that are Special' label, said: "There's just as much thought goes into the designing of a manufactured bear, even if it is mass produced in the end.  The term 'artist bear' is a new phrase really.  I've always considered myself to be a designer and maker.  I know a lot of people feel that a bear is their way of putting their art down, but I don't look at bears that way .... As long as the bear is nice when it's finished, I don't think it matters."
Well, if it's good enough for Pam, it's certainly good enough for me!

The Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company  (can you spot my artist bear Chiltern Memory, among his manufactured friends?)
Manufactured 'Hugmees' 1930 - 1950

And so it seems to me, definitions don't really belong with teddy bears.  After all, a much-loved teddy will appeal to his owner for any number of reasons, least of which is likely to be whether he has been defined as 'art' or not.  In my view, it's best we bear 'crafters' climb down from our high horses and concentrate our energies on creating bears from the heart, taking care not to slip into the murky waters of the ego trap. 

I would like to give the last word to Gregory Gyllenship, one of our finest UK and international teddy bear artists ...

  Gregory, a modest man, defines himself as:
'A bloke who makes bears.'

Well said Gregory!


  1. Well you know what the Bard himself said..."A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

    The label isn't so important as the work being done.

    Hugs, Kelly

  2. Very interesting and thoughtful post Paula x x And yes its the work being done which is important.

    Gregory's quote made me laugh too, but again it is so right.

    Happy bear making Paula

  3. beautifully written Paula :)

  4. Reading this brings back memories, I the question of our "job title" has cropped up more than a few times. I have always tried to be modest about my skills and allow the bears to speak for me so even after all this time I still with " a bloke who makes bears". Enjoyed reading well written post, thanks Paula

  5. Glad you've cleared this one up Paula, all so true! I like Gregory's approach! :0))

  6. Great post Paula, Ive been keeping up with the debate and this is a perfectly written post. Hugs Susan


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