Now and then
I was so pleased when I found my 'Hugglets' folder in my loft space at my last house as I was packing up to move. The red folder, lettered gold, was full of 'Hugglets' magazines, the very first UK specialist teddy bear publication. Sadly, the magazine hasn't been published for a very long time since those first enrapturing issues ... (mine are dated from 1993, but I know the first issue was published even earlier). The Hugglets team, Glen and Irene Jackman were well known for their fabulous London based teddy bear shows and annual Teddy Bear Guide, yet should also be heralded for the introduction of artist designed teddy bears to the UK and subsequently, for the dedicated promotion of both UK and internationally artist designed teddy bears.
As I time warped back to 1993, I revelled in the reflection of what was to me, a golden era in teddy bear design. Many of the designers mentioned have since changed direction and so seeing their work again was like meeting old friends once more. I found myself smiling broadly as I rediscovered pictures of their bears, long since forgotten.
Teddy bear shows were reported with much enthusiasm. Leading lights Janet Clark, Frank Website, Sandra Wickenden, Gregory Gyllenship, proudly filled stands at those early shows, with magnificent display pieces and no concern for size ... after all, big bears were highly sought after! It was fascinating to see their early work again and to begin to understand how far they have travelled since they first set out on their own artistic journeys into teddy bear design.
Back in the early 90's, teddy bear design was less flambuoyant than it is today, more based in traditional techniques. Simple teddy bear features expressed nostalgia; hints of Steiff, Bing, Herman, Chiltern, Chad Valley, long since passed, were brought lovingly back to life. Wide eyes, warm natural colours, smart black embroidered noses, those teddy bears were created with a firm sense of security instinctively crafted into each gentle detail. If I flick through the pages of my most recent teddy bear magazines, the differences leap out at me. Today's artist bears are generally speaking smaller, much less naive in expression; the gentle soulful expressions of a decade ago have been replaced with bold flirtation, cheeky grins, arms that hug, legs that bend and perch, necks that twist and turn, these modern day bears have evolved human characteristics, cleverly moulded into bear form so that each bear may pout and pose for any PR opportunity. The pages are bright with colour; fur, eyes, noses and even ears, their shades as bold or a subtle, as any skilled artist's palette could hope to achieve. Reading those early magazines made me think about my latest range of bears. When I started designing my own bears back in the early 90's, my goal was simple, I wanted to create beautiful bears I could love, bears which would stand the test of time and remain true to their forebears. Bears which might one day equal the appeal of those created by the UK artists and manufacturers I always most admired.
Don't get me wrong, I'm just like every other bearmaker, I love to try new techniques and am eternally grateful for the fabulous array of coloured mohair now available. Playing with design is what makes the process of bear craft so enjoyable, as it keeps creations vibrant and interesting ... yet now and again, as I fiddled with an eyelid, or a second neck joint for example, I have to question why and whether such embellishments are purely for embellishment's sake, or whether they remain true to my original ideal. With this in mind, I frequently return to my roots to create timeless teddy bears, developed in tribute to the endearing qualities of traditional bears, yet I hope, with fresh appeal.
Today teddy bear design is a popular craft around the world, so it it is more important than ever to create identity in my work as I need collectors to recognise my pieces, whether contemporary in style, or traditional. Needless to say, identity is not something I am able to add to my designs in a practical sense, but instead is passed from me to my bears by a process of subtle osmosis ... I like to think it boils down to an enduring passion for what I do and an inherent respect for the wonderful early bears who first inspired the bear maker within me.