What is an artist bear?
The question 'What is an Artist Bear' has been hotly debated by 'teddy bear artists', for as long as I can remember - probably since the term was first coined in the US, back in the 1970's. The topic still raises its controversial head with regular monotony almost fifty years later, with bear makers/designers/artists quickly becoming hot under the collar, as they staunchly defend their own interpretation. In case you are curious, I am a bear 'artist' who much prefers to call herself a teddy bear 'designer' or better still, 'maker', when pushed to define what I do, simply because this definition is the one that sits most comfortably with me.
So, after a rather magnificent heap of 'bruhaha' (a wonderful term I have recently coined from a bear artist friend!) among teddy bear 'artists' in response to a magazine article on this subject a while ago, I had to smile when I opened a magazine binder and came across an old Hugglets magazine dating back to the Summer of 1993; back then, I was still dreaming about launching myself into the magical world of teddy bear artistry as a bona fide 'bear artist', so I must admit, page 21, entitled 'What is an Artist Bear,' made me smile ...
The first definition was thoughtfully provided by the lovely lady who was kind enough to give me my first leg up into the bear business way back in 1994; Michelle Chambers of the Rochester Teddy Bear Shop stated, "For a bear to come under the category of an Artist Bear, it should not be mass produced, but created in a cottage industry environment. The bear artist is also someone who can turn bear making into a fine art, so that An Artist Bear is a bear with individuality and, most importantly, it has a unique style".
Reading further on, Janet Clark of Teddystyle, a leading light in our world of teddy bear artistry at the time, agreed saying, "I don't even know that I'm an artist myself, that's up to other people to say .... a good bear maker can put a good face on a bear, but an artist can make that face come to life". Maddie Janes, another well respected bear maker of that era, went on to say, "If you're a real teddy bear artist, you don't just have one pattern you keep making in different sizes ... you're making new patterns all the time and using new components." UK teddy bear royalty Pamela Ann Howells, chief designer for the Chiltern Toy Company for a decade from the 50's onwards and still creating today, more than sixty years later, under her own 'Bears that are Special' label, said: "There's just as much thought goes into the designing of a manufactured bear, even if it is mass produced in the end. The term 'artist bear' is a new phrase really. I've always considered myself to be a designer and maker. I know a lot of people feel that a bear is their way of putting their art down, but I don't look at bears that way .... As long as the bear is nice when it's finished, I don't think it matters." Well, if it's good enough for Pam, it's certainly good enough for me!
The Chiltern Hygenic Toy Company Manufactured these fabulous 'Hugmees' between 1930 and 1950.
It seems to me, definitions don't really belong with teddy bears. After all, a much-loved teddy will appeal to his owner for any number of reasons, least of which is likely to be whether he has been defined as 'art' or not. In my view, it's best we bear 'crafters/makers/artists/designers', climb down from our high horses and concentrate our energies on creating beautiful teddy bears from the heart, taking good care not to slip into the murky waters of the ego trap.
I would like to give the last word to Gregory Gyllenship on this topic, as he is one of our finest UK and international teddy bear artists ...
Gregory, a modest man, defines himself as: 'A bloke who makes bears.' Well said Gregory!