Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
The Bear Necessities of Life
It won't be long now till bears start going into hibernation, so if you want to catch a glance, you'd better be quick. But just in case you can't make it to North America, the Arctic, or other bear abodes, you can always head over to Kensington Town Hall, London, where you might find some friendlier hugs.
On September 11th, the Teddies 2016 festival will make its second bi-annual appearance of the year. From 10.30am-4pm you can join hundreds of other arctophiles in the search for your one (or several) true bear. Early birds, who are willing to queue before opening time, get free chocolates. Standard entry for adults is £4 or £2 for children, but you can also get in for free if you sign up to the Hugglets website. Once registered, you will be sent a catalogue that includes free tickets. Your tickets not only grant you access to the festival, but enter you into an hourly prize draw, in which you could win £50 to spend at any of the stalls.
Having been to five previous events, I now feel like quite a seasoned Hugglets go-er, but that never makes the anticipation or experience any less exciting. I look forward to seeing all my favourite bear artists and wonder what new creations they have on offer. But of course, not all arctophiles collect new bears; many are keen collectors of vintage and antiques. Bears of such an age are bound to have been given a lot of love over the years, and the more they've been loved, the more TLC they require in later life. If you have any bears that have passed their handsome youth and have a few seams out of stitch, then you can always rely on Dot Bird. Dot deals in the 'sympathetic restoration of pre-1960s Teddy Bears.' She is always out in the foyer with a catalogue of her marvellous work. Why not take your teddy with you and see what she can do? Alternatively, you can call her on 01765 607131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a bear born after 1969, then you can visit Bear It In Mind It In Mind, which does not discriminate against age or value.
If you are into old bears, then there are many stallholders at the show that will be of interest. SAS was established in 1991 and provide Special Auction Services. Although they are an auction house, everything at the show is on sale rather than bid. You can find some real rare vintage gems, including Disney merchandise, gollywogs, literary characters, and much more.
One floor up, I found another vintage bear dealer, Christina Langham, who was selling a 1970s Gabrielle Designs bear of Aunt Lucy. Aunt Lucy is Paddington Bear's aunt, and is much harder to find than her nephew, especially one that is in as good a condition as this. As I have my own Paddington Bear collection, I didn't think it was right not to have her join the set.
Other characters I collect are those from the Winnie the Pooh and his friends, and there is always an abundance to choose from at the festival. I managed to grab myself a miniature Pooh Bear by Teddy Herman before coming across a giant Steiff Pooh at an outstanding price. Given that I still had a lot more places to explore, I decided to come back later to make my decision, but alas, by then the bargain bear had gone.
These aside, the main company I collect from is Charlie Bears , whose main aim it is to create affordable bears within everyone's budget. The founders, Charlotte and William Morris are lovely people and consider their customers as friends. They are always eager to hear name and design suggestions, and a lot of the bears they have made have stemmed from specific requests. When I met them on a signing tour, I asked for my namesake bear, and low and behold, the new collection included a Bryony rabbit. There were several at the festival from various stockists, and I was thrilled to bits with her.
Last year my mum took a fancy to a gorgeous hare by Tillington Bears, but resisted the temptation of buying. Instead, I made the secret purchase as a birthday present, and he now takes pride of place on her shelf. When we visited the Teddies Winter Fest in February, Tillington Bears was the first stall we saw, and they had several of the same style hares on display. These ones, however, were all clothed and had a particular theme. There was a harey bride, a harey vicar, and even Harey Potter.
Another favourite artist is Gail Thornton, who calls her business Bisson Bears after her mother's maiden name. She has been making bears since 1995, and they always make our hearts flutter. One of her smallest bears captured my attention, and when I picked it up, I thought it felt different from all her other bears; much softer, more cuddly. In past years Gail has only worked with mohair, but she said that the recent quality of faux fur has improved so much that she decided to try using it for this bear, and it worked a dream.
Frank Webster Originals is also artist I really like. He gives his bears such sweet faces. Last September I saw I bear of his that pulled at my heart strings, but because I had only just got inside, I wanted to go around the rest of the venue before deciding to buy. At the end of the day, I decided I would, but unfortunately the bear had already been sold. I learnt my lesson this time, so when I saw Pip, he 'fell' straight into my bag.
Opposite Frank is Lanie Bears, who was running a stall with her friend, Gill. Gill was a lovely lady to chat to. We asked how long it takes her to make a bear and she said the one we were looking at took three eight-hour days, but there was also a standing bear that she made that took a week because it had a skeletal structure. Mum has had a go at making a bear herself, and she can attest that it is a true labour of love. You need lots of patience and very nimble fingers. She has a new level of respect for all bear artists now.
If you think you have these qualities, then you can stock up on supplies at the Mohair Bear Making Supplies shop. Here you can find a range of fabrics, cotter pins, pellets, and patterns.
When we first started collecting, we always preferred bears that went au naturale, but the Whittle Le Woods has made us begin to change our minds. There is something about a bear in a duffle coat or jacket that just makes them extra appealing. Whittle Le Woods is run by Irene and Mike Whittle and they have been making Edwardian style teddy bears since 1992. What makes their bears extra special is that they each come with their own little character profile, such as Jeremy James, a cub evacuee carrying his own little teddy and a gas mask.
It is fascinating to see how different each artist's bears are: traditional (Vintage Bears), cutesy (Mazzitelli), lifelike (Bear Bits), anthropomorphic (Bumble Bears), and some are very bizarre indeed. You couldn't get much more out there than Kreft-Bar), a company founded by German artist, Anja Kreft. The origins of Kreft Bar starts in 1997, when Anja was stuck in hospital for weeks. To stop herself going mad through boredom, she decided to have a go making a bear (or several), and two years later she decided to build a business. With their large noses and wild hair, Anja's bears are very distinct and unique. Each is a one of a kind character, but all of them are sure to put a smile on your face just because of their quirkiness.
When it comes to the lifelike bears, what makes them really realistic is not just the accuracy of their faces, but also their pose-ability. Your standard jointed bear has five joint (head, arms, and legs), but some artists give their bears as many as twelve joints so that you can manipulate their wrists, ankles, knees, and elbows. Jo-Anne Bears had a gorgeous family of polar bears playing in frothy ice.
The most realistic looking animals, however, were not bears, but dogs. JCW Bears & Furry Friends is a soft sculpture business founded in 2000, run by award-winning artist, Jacqui Wickenden. Using mohair, alpaca, and other materials, she creates the most lifelike animals I have ever seen. If you saw one of her dogs sitting on a sofa, you would think it was alive. As well as making her own creations, she also does commissions for those who would like a pet memorial.
Talking about sofas, if you would like your bears to sit on something more interesting than a shelf, then you can always rely on Christopher's Chairs to be unique, good quality, and very affordable. All hand-crafted, his designs are practical, stylish and fun.
Home is where the heart is, but a bear is where the home is, so if your home is lacking warmth and feeling a bit empty, Teddies 2016 is where you can find the solution.