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!

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.

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!


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?

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.

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!

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.

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.
Teddy Bear Tea Set

mixed bears
Mix of Artist and Manufactured Bears

Toy Pianos

Raikes Bears
Robert Raikes Bears

Farewell to an Industry Legend – Steve Schutt May 15, 1950 – March 19, 2017

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.

SteveinWorkshopI 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!”

2016: A Prim Christmas in the Family Room



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.

Feather Tree

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 tfeathertreeall 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.

cubbies with sheep

Christmas Cubbies

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.

I brought out my mercury glass bead garlands and used those to dress up the cubbies also, allowing them to flow out over the edges. The multicolored ones were used on the big feather tree.20161230_132214

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

stockings on mantelInstead 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.

2016: The Christmas Cupboard

santa cupboard

santa cupboard

First Impression

I have shown you my beloved funky little cabinet that I got at Found Things a few years back. Recently, I placed it by the door to the kitchen – directly in your line of sight when you come in the front door. Then I filled it with most of my collection of Santa Clauses.

Mass Displays for Greater Impact

Sometimes it’s good to display a collection en masse. One glorious overload of the jolly old elf! And it hits you as soon as you walk in our front door! It exudes Christmas cheer and invites you to stop and examine the pieces closely – one delightful depiction after another!

Santa is the Spirit of Christmas Giving

The spirit of Christmas is strong at our house. Santa, Father Christmas, St. Nichlolas, or whatever you call him is the spirit of Christmas giving.  I have been collecting Santas for a long time. In this display, you’ll find manufactured pieces and artist pieces side by side. I love them all. Artists represented include Joel Hoy, Janny Miller, June Wildash, Ruth Hare, Edna Bossert, and Nan Wright.

Prim Folk Fest is Born!

In the summer of 2016 my plans for successor shows to Steve Schutt’s Teddy Bear Reunion in the Heartland (TBRH) have finally come together as Prim Folk Fest. Updating a 25 year old event for today’s market was quite a process. I ended up with two smaller events that I hope will find a place in the hearts of collectors and artists.

Americana Fine Folk Art Festival

Folk art is a big category encompassing many forms that compliment each other, so it’s no wonder it’s a collector favorite. Many teddy bear artists have embraced additional art forms and make upcycled jewelry, assemblages of found things, make-dos, art and primitive dolls, steam punk themed pieces, and needle-felted pieces in addition to the traditional mohair bears.

We’ll celebrate the diversity by featuring the work of a wide variety of artists on June 16 & 17, 2017. The show is Americana-themed, but you will probably find other treasures as well. We have invited a number of Midwestern folk artists whose work we love and you may not have seen before!

Teddy Bear Festival

Lovers of teddy bears and their friends will be treated to an array of their favorites on October 20 & 21, 2017. A lot of artists who were signed up to exhibit at TBRH 2015 are already on board for this event. Collectors from past TBRH’s, Kansas City Teddy Bear Jubilee and other Midwestern events that have gone by the wayside will gather for a long-awaited reunion.


Finding the right venue was a struggle. I didn’t want this to be just another sale in a hotel ballroom. As luck would have it, just when I felt I would never find the right place, a couple of entrepreneurs opened a charming new venue in the same building as their thriving antique mall. Our events will take place at Decades Event Center, 1208 Grand Avenue, West Des Moines, Iowa. It’s close to the freeway (it’s hard to get too far away from things in the Des Moines area!), easy to find, in a nice neighborhood with plenty of free parking and it is decorated with antiques for a rustic and charming atmosphere.

Schedule of Events

How do you keep things simple, yet festive and special? The schedule will be the same for both events. We’ll be open for an Early Buy celebration on Friday evening from 4:30 – 7:00. Admission is $20 and includes a pass for a return visit on Saturday. There will be a cash bar and opportunity to be the first to see and buy some wonderful creations, relax and show off your purchases to other collectors, visit with friends about your favorites at the show, and maybe make plans for supper with artists and collectors after the showroom closes. On Saturday admission is $5 and we’ll be open from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. We may have some surprises up our sleeves for this day as well.

What Else Can We Do In Des Moines?

If you haven’t visited Des Moines in awhile – or ever – you might be surprised at all of the events going on here all the time! It’s one reason I found it difficult to schedule Prim Folk Fest! I know when we make a road trip to an event, we always look for other things to see and do to enhance our visit.

There will be plenty of other activities to entertain anyone who attends Prim Folk Fest whether it’s finding something else to do after you have been to our show or need something to interest family members or friends who might accompany you on your trip. We are working with the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau to make you feel welcome and help you take in all the great things our city has to offer while you are here.

In addition to our shows and The Picker Knows antique mall next door, there are many antique shops and malls in the area that will be helping us promote our events. Maps and recommendations will be available!

If you come to the June event, there is a huge annual city-wide antique walk Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the town of Walnut, Iowa just a little over an hour west of the Des Moines metro area. If you like antiques, this should be on your bucket list. Visit the show on your way into or out of town!

Visit Our Website

Be sure to bookmark our website, www.primfolkfest.com and visit it often for updates. You can also sign up for our mailing list there. We’ll send out an email whenever we have a new development. Exhibitor profiles will also be found on the website to help you plan your shopping!