Friday 24 May 2024

The tale of Miguel the Magnificent


I began bear-making before the age of the internet and before it became the norm to own a computer in households throughout the UK.

British Teddy bear 'artists' were inspired by the amazing teddy bear makers in the US, who began a passion for handcrafted teddy bears which miraculously swept across the globe without the aid of the internet, eventually taking a strong foothold in the UK in the early 1990's, in a country well known for its own teddy bear heritage, since the early 1900's.

Creating teddy bears was a passion for me well before I was nudged into selling my work in the mid 1990's. In the 1980's I was a dedicated teddy bear collector of Chiltern Hugmee teddy bears, manufactured in the UK since the early 1920's. By the early 1990's, I had discovered the world of teddy bear artists and was in awe of makers such as Sandra Wickenden, Gregory Gyllenship, Janet Clark, Frank Webster and Sue Quinn, to name but a few! By the mid 1990's, I was inspired to create  my own bears and the rest, as they say, is my teddy bear history!

The years have since crept by and it recently it occurred to me that my earlier, pre-World Wide Web teddy bears, are probably little remembered nowadays because in the days when they were created, I didn't have a website or social media to share my work, so I took photographs of my creations on film cameras, walked into town to have them developed in a shop, then walked home again, to sort and post the photos to interested customers and specialist magazines (in the old fashioned way with an envelope and a stamp!) The spare photographs were dumped into bags, stored in my loft and generally forgotten about as the years ticked by. Many bags of printed teddy bear photographs made their way to the local tip when I moved house seventeen years ago, so will sadly never be seen again. In those days, I simply stored a few favourite teddy bear photographs in traditional photo albums on a shelf. I have promised myself to scan them into my computer and make a proper photo album soon, as it seems such a shame to have lost so much of my earlier teddy bear making history. The older I become, the more I appreciate a need to save images of my work and play my part in preserving the history of the British Artist Bear to share with future generations...

And with that in mind, I will start the process this very moment with one of the very first images scanned into my first computer, many years ago... I think it was taken in 1999, or maybe 1998 - definitely in the days before bear-making took a toll on my eyesight! I was perched on the steps of the house I had lived since 1983. Sat with me was 'Miguel the Magnificent', a huge teddy bear created in alpaca. I was very proud of him and we were having our photograph quickly taken in the garden, before I settled him into a large box and sent him aross the world to America, to meet his new owner...

Shortly before Miguel was made, I won my first 'British Bear Artist Award' in 1998 for a similar bear named 'Himself'. After the awards ceremony, 'Himself' was featured in the 'Teddy Bear Times' magazine and then somehow seen by a lovely collector named Sylvia, who lived in Chicago, in the United States. I wouldn't normally share a collector's name publically, but Sylvia was a huge support to my teddy bear making career, for which I will always be grateful and she was a very kindly lady. Sadly she is no longer with us, but she was an absolute gem within our teddy bear world and as I mentioned, a very kind lady...

One day, Sylvia contacted me and asked if I could make a huge teddy bear for a little friend of hers, a young boy who had been involved in a terrible accident. When she visited him in hospital, she was so sad to see how damaged and frightened he was, so asked how she could help him feel more safe... between them they decided a huge teddy bear would do just that and so she contacted me to make a bear similar to my award winner, 'Himself'. 'Miguel the Magnificent' flew out to his new owner, but sadly, too late. The little boy, too broken to stay, slipped quietly away, before Miguel the Magnificent arrived in the US and so my huge bear was given to his mother to help her through her grief instead. Later his mother donated the bear in her son's memory to a charity where she felt he could continue to help... and a kind donor presented the charity with a significent sum of money, in return for one great big teddy bear, who, before flying out from the UK, had with one fuzzy photograph taken with his maker, perched on her garden steps...

So that was the tale of Miguel the Magnificent. I don't know where he is now but I will never forget his story in my teddy bear history and the memory of a kind hearted lady named Sylvia.  

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