A. BRUCE BEAR
In the summer of 1992, I happened to be in Vienna taking a workshop with Saburo Teshigawara (artistic director of Company Karas from Japan). At the time, The Natural History Museum was holding an extensive exhibit on the history of the Teddy Bear. Being focused on my studies, I didn’t give it much thought. Wandering around one Sunday, I decided to take a look. From that moment it changed my life.
The exhibit covered the history, the politics, the commercialism, the aesthetics, and the effect of the Teddy Bear. On top of having over 300 bears on display, there were postcards, commercials, cookie boxes, furniture, pens, lunch boxes, dishes, and anything else you can think of in the shape of a bear. I was stunned and fascinated.
Upon leaving Vienna, I decided to make two teddy bears, one for each of my brothers, for Christmas. After how hard can it be? I went to Eaton’s and bought a McCall’s pattern. Next, I picked up a black fur coat. After many tries at cutting the fur, I had what could be considered close enough to the real pattern. I stitched all the pieces by hand (which I still do), and researched for ways to make the bear jointed. I used nuts and bolts, imagine!!!! (Now I use plastic doll joints). I found eyes, stitched on a nose, stuffed him, and voila!, after three months I had my first bear. My second bear went a bit faster. After my brothers received them, everyone in my family wanted one. Suddenly, I was in business.
All my bears are made with real fur or recycled coats. I think I am a texture person and love the feeling the fur gives. Beaver and Persian lamb are the most popular, but I also work with wolf, mink, fox, lama, seal, muskrat, skunk, and raccoon. Each fur has it’s own quality; therefore, I have no favorite. As it takes a long time to make each bear, no two are alike. I produce less than one hundred a year, which are usually sold before they are made.
I use glass or plastic eyes, suede paw pads, and embroidered noses. Some are dressed with ties, vests, dresses, glasses, or sweaters (which my mother meticulously knits). Others have just bows and collars. Usually the wolf or raccoon bears are plain, given they have a “from the wild” quality. I am constantly designing new bears, but have six permanent designs. I will draw the design and then go directly to the fur, adjusting as I sew. This often makes some bears more unique than others. Only after a certain design has been reproduced and changed about ten times, will it become permanent. Then it will be given sizes ranging from 10 inches to 24 inches.
Time, patience, and a lot of mistakes can account for my personal technique in bear making. I have read a lot, talked to other artisans, and visited bear factories and shows. But most of it comes from experience and curiosity. With each new design comes a new challenge and in my studio I find a solution.
My first sales in a store occurred for Christmas 1993. A store in Winnipeg (Gisele’s) wanted six bears for a window display. Within a week all the bears were sold. So, I began approaching stores myself. The Boutique at The McCord Museum of Canadian History often had teddy bears on display. After talking with Muriel Abitbol, my bears were soon on the floor. They have sold my bears since February 1994. Now I sell across Canada, Europe, and Asia. Since my production line is my hands, I am kept very busy.