A Smiling Bear Comes Home

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.

Katie an open mouth bearReconnecting 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!

A Ray of Steiff Sunshine in the Pandemic

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.

Steiff mini bear on a chairMiniature 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!

Easter 2020

Easter 2020 is weird amid the Covid-19 pandemic. All of us who celebrate Christianity’s most holy day of the year are missing our families. We can attend church services virtually or replay the sound of dear voices raised in cherished Easter hymns in our minds.We can only hope that our social distancing is helping to stem the spread of this disease and we’ll be together next year.

I thought I would share a little Easter cheer in the form of some of my collection of bunnies. It’s not all bears, you know! Spring is time for bunnies. In fact, I scared the Easter bunny the other day as I poked around in my garden to see what is blooming and what is poking out of the soil to delight me in the weeks ahead. Boy, he sure can run!

This is my Easter cabinet display. The plush bunnies are all by Steiff with one Leghorn rooster in the lower right corner by Joel Hoy!

Blessed Easter, everyone! I am grateful today for my memories of Easters past.

My Birthday Bear 2020

birthday bear 2020When 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.

Purple Bears for Rett Syndrome Research

Rett-Bear-1
The First Purple Rett Bear – SOLD

Every year I do some fundraising for Rett Syndrome research in honor of Emma Larson who suffers from the condition. The Cure Rett Iowa Strollathon does a fantastic job and has raised an impressive amount of money each year. They have an silent auction of donated items and the first year I participated, I found that the people who come to these things do not understand what an artist bear is or how much it might be worth. I ended up offering it online at the same time as the auction and it sold for a respectable amount to Mostly Bears owner Trish Stoll. Thanks, Trish!

This year I am bypassing the auction and will just put the bear up for collectors to buy online with the funds going directly to my Rett fundraiser account on rettsyndrome.org. This has worked well for everyone in the past. It will also let me do my own thing as far as designing the bear without worrying about catering to potential buyers at the auction.

Stay tuned for updates!

A Teddy Bear Outstanding in His Field

Coming back from Christmas in the country with my siblings and their families, we stopped to take a photo. I am always on a bear hunt and couldn’t pass this one up!
hay bale bear
Turns out my sister’s co-worker knows the family who made the bear. I have seen bears made out of hay bales and odds and ends several times in my travels. It speaks to the universal appeal of the teddy bear as a symbol of love, peace, and good will.

2019 Santa Collection

In a nod to my love of all things Christmas, I have been making needle-felted Santas and reindeer every year. This year’s collection had make-do Santas mounted on various antique industrial spools. In the past, my Santas have pretty much all carried a teddy bear – obviously. But this year, I wanted to change it up a bit. I found a couple of lots of antique putz stick-leg horses that were affordable enough to include in my pieces without making them outrageously expensive. I have been collecting the spools for a few years, as artists do, trying to amass a group that I could use for something.

I was a bit stymied by a bunch of flat spools that I got from Sandee Millet at Greenwood Merchantile in Greenwood, MO. I knew they would be good bases for figures, but wasn’t sure how I would use them. It took me several months of back-burner ruminating, but I finally figured it out. I needed a tiny figure!

These little guys were well-received and I will be making more for next year. The flat spools are not as readily available as some of the other styles, so I will be on the hunt for more!

I did not have time to make any Santa bears, so I will work on those for next Christmas also. I have the one polar bear started and I think he will just be carrying a tiny Santa doll of his own.

A Christmas Shopping Bear Hunt

Giant Bear
I went to one of my favorite stores – Home Goods – to shop for a few Christmas gifts and it turned out to be a bear hunt! Right inside the door, I found a huge – 6 ft? – FAO Schwartz teddy bear sitting in a large decorative sleigh. You never know what you will find at Home Goods. I am not sure about this size of teddy bear. Where would you put it? Would it scare a child? Should you buckle it’s seat belt on your way home from the store? I did not buy it, but I did decide to look for more bears.
polar bear
Just around the corner and down the aisle, I found this big polar bear. There were a couple of them around the store. Again, I didn’t know where I would put a bear so large or store it in the off season. But, when I went back a week later, both the giant bear and this bear were gone. Some people had a beary happy holiday!
table runner
The last really cute bears I saw were on this table runner. I brought this home with me. I figured I could use it all winter and the three bears were just so happy looking! So that was my bear hunt at Home Goods. You never know where you will find bears. Who doesn’t love them?

October 2019 Cedar Rapids Hunt

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!

ice cream mold

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.

blue-eyed bear
Old Blue Eyes

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.

Pristine Steiff
Fabulous Old Steiff 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!

American-stick-bear

snooty-bear
Snooty Little Bear

Steiffs in wagon
Group of Newer Steiff Bears in Wonderful Wagon

bear under stool
Little Bear Tucked Under a Stool

Bear on Wheels

bear and doll
Does This Bear Have Ears?

sad Steiff bear
Sad Little Steiff Bear

flop ear bear
Sweet Little Flop-Ear Bear

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!

What Happens When a Bear Store Closes?

Cheeky
Merrythought Cheeky Jack in the Box

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.

AnneBears
Anne Cranshaw Bears

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.

bears by three artists
Bears by Janet Reeves, Betsy Reum and Mac Pohlen

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!

workshop
Limited Edition Steiff Workshop

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.

donkey
Schoenhut Donkey

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!

play bears
Dressed Bears

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.
Cup
Teddy Bear Tea Set

mixed bears
Mix of Artist and Manufactured Bears

pianos
Toy Pianos

Raikes Bears
Robert Raikes Bears