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!”

One of Those Award-Winning Bears

AwardWinnerArtists enter many contests at shows allowing conventioneers to choose their favorites in different categories. This time at Kansas Cty Jubilee, it was my turn to win in the miniature category.  The winner was my little brown mohair clown bear – four inches tall.  He and his ribbon now reside with a collector in the Kansas City area.

Souvenir Bears for the 25th Annual Kansas City Teddy Bear Jubilee

The 25th Annual Kansas City Teddy Bear Jubilee had a unique concept for souvenir bears. They asked artists who had made souvenir bears in the past to do a set of 5 bears. Conventioneers would be allowed to pick which bear they wanted. Terri Larson and I had each made convention souvenir bears in the past and we also collaborated with Joel Hoy in our Once Upon a Needle group to make souvenirs another year. So we all elected to do a piece. This meant that Terri and I made a lot more bears than Joel. How did that happen?

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We decided out joint piece would be a scarecrow since the show had a fall theme. Terri made the heads and passed them on to me. I sewed on the ears and made the bodies and attached them. This was interesting because I had not made a ragdoll body for a bear before. I then passed the bears on to Joel who created the costumes.

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Terri made these cute Autumn Clown bears in a basket of tiny “pumpkins”. I loved them so much, that’s the one I picked for my own!

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And finally, here are my little Autumnal Bears with a collar of leaves and an acorn and holding their “25” tag in honor of the 25th Anniversary.

Artist Challenges

Over the years, my bear-making friends and I have participated in many group challenges.  When the organizers of Kansas City Jubilee were loobellhop challenge bearking for a program to present for conventioneers at the 25th Jubilee, Joel Hoy, Terri Larson and I dug into our collections and photo files to put together a fun and entertaining program.

Joel was in charge because he does really well speaking before a group and also because I was teaching a Make ‘n Take workshop that same day and Terri was unable to come to the convention.  It was a trip down memory lane when we laid out the samples we had brought. I had forgotten about some of these things I had made!

As far as I can remember, the bell hop was made incorporating the bell, a bottle cap which was the base for the hat, and the button which became his badge.

 

Types of Challenges

Challenges were issued and results revealed whenever friends gathered at a show.  Some of them were:

  • Make a bear incorporating items from a package – identical packages were given to each participant
  • Make up your own package of items and then draw for another artist’s pack to make your piece.  The Artist who provided the items received the finished product.
  • Mythical creature
  • Other animal you haven’t tried before
  • Use a material you haven’t tried before
  • Incorporate a new technique you’d like to learn

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This lion was made from an “other animal” challenge when I was given the mauve fur. You can’t see the tail, but the tip is also the longer mohair. I further challenged myself to make him a nice open mouth.

 

Collaborations

There were also challenges for two or more artists collaborating on a piece that would be offered for sale or at auction for charity. Terri Larson and I made many fun pieces for Kansas City Jubilee inspired by Daniel Epley’s wild imagination.  Sometimes we also enlisted the woodworking skills of Terri’s dad, Dick Chloupek.

Here's one that came from Terri Larson's imagination. Terri made the little boy bear pretending to be an inspector and I made his hound. This was way out of my usual scale, I hadn't made a dog before and I hadn't made a figure posed and unjointed, either.

Here’s one that came from Terri Larson’s imagination. Terri made the little boy bear pretending to be an inspector and I made his hound. This was way out of my usual scale, I hadn’t made a dog before and I hadn’t made a figure posed and unjointed, either.

 

Full Time or Part Time Artist?

A fellow needle-felter posted the question on Facebook the other day.  Is needle-felting a full-time job, part-time or hobby?

I know she meant “do you support yourself by selling your needle-felted art?” and I think I can say that not very many people can manage that.  When I was a full-time teddy bear artist, my children were small and we wanted them to have a full-time stay-at-home mom.  Teddy bear making allowed me to stay home, but did I make enough money to support myself, let alone my family?   No.  It was extra income, but not very much.  I travelled a lot and spent a lot of time creating product and marketing it.  It allowed for some extras for our children and some discretionary spending money for me, but my husband’s full-time job and benefits provided our support. Eventually, I had to give up a lot of my teddy bear making and spend my days at a “real job” with a regular paycheck and benefits.  This coincided with a downturn in the economy that led to less discretionary spending, fewer people who could be active collectors, shows and shops that went out of business…a downturn in the collectibles market. So things worked out.

Right now, most of my art is donated to raise money for charitable causes.  I don’t have much time to make things.  In fact, I had an order that took me over a year to complete, but that’s another story.

Needle-felting has really taken off in the years since I started sculpting with wool.  When I started, nobody knew what it was.  They liked what I did, but I didn’t really know how to price things, so I priced them the same as my mohair pieces.  I sold whatever I made, but I didn’t make very much.  Now, there is so much wonderful needle-felted artwork out there!  I really want to get back to work!

Back to full-time vs. hobbyist.  I think if you are an artist, you are an artist all the time. At the office, I sculpt with words, I design graphics and forms and coax code into web pages. I choose promotional items that support and reinforce our brand.  At home, I paint with plants in my garden.  I photograph my flowers and dogs and use those images to convey messages. I am always creating, taking pieces and molding them into something else, but it’s not always with some kind of needle.  I tell stories – sometimes intentionally and sometimes by accident. There is an art to all of it. So yes, I am a full-time artist.

Does selling or at least trying to sell your work make you a full-time artist?  Is the benchmark how much your earnings contribute to your support?