Monday, 12 September 2011
Today's the day the teddy bears pick new owners
Yesterday I went to a Teddy Bear Fair. Let me describe it for those of you who have never attended one. Hugglets organise two fairs a year in Kensington Town Hall (February and September). There are four rooms full of stalls selling manufactured bears (such as Steiff), artist bears (such as the lion above), vintage bears and materials/kits to make your own bears. When I first started collecting bears there were three UK monthly magazines and lots of shows. If you weren't in line for the Kensington fairs way before they opened you might not get the bears you wanted (most of the artist bears are one of a kind). Unfortunately, as with all things the economy has impacted on people's ability to spend a not inconsiderable amount of money on teddy bears and so, I learnt yesterday, there is only one bear magazine left in Britain (Teddy Bear Times) and now it only comes out every other month.
I had always promised myself that once I earned a reasonable amount of money I would collect Steiff bears but did nothing about it until one day when T and I took a short cut in Guildford and came across The Bear Garden. This was a shop full of nothing but bears and after a long chat with the lady in charge I bought my first collector's bear. (Collectible teddy bears tend to be made of mohair or alpaca although I have a bear made out of silk and they are normally fully jointed. They are usually not recommended for children at all). That was the start of my collection or 'hug' as it is officially called. The normal path for a collector is to start with Steiff, Deans, Merrythought and the other respected manufacturers (I was lucky that a lady called Robin Rive was making beautiful bears in New Zealand and I have some of hers). They all have (or had) collectors clubs so you start to attend club events and then if you are anything like me you go to a bear fair and suddenly you are confronted with hundreds or thousands of the most appealing little faces and artists you haven't seen in any magazine. Artist bears can be traditional or a bit more wacky, perhaps a long neck or particularly long feet or a face that doesn't look like a bear at all. I am always amazed by what people will pick up and buy but my tastes tend to be very traditional. There are a lot of exceptionally good designers out there and I will just name a few that I particularly like. Whittle-le-Woods bears make the most beautifully dressed bears and they were amongst the first artist bears I bought. I have a school-boy, a Victorian bathing beauty and a Chelsea pensioner amongst others. The attention to detail on the bears is amazing. In the
picture to the left you can see Amelie. She was made for me by the bear artist trading as Humble Crumble Bears. She is the most beautiful bear and, as Vicky Allum (Humble Crumble) makes bears that resemble old Steiffs, she is rather saggy so she tends to be, very appealingly, slouching. I have a number of Humble Crumble bears as well. If you join Vicky's mailing list she will tell you when she has new bears available. Don't even bother looking an hour after that list has gone out, all of the bears will have been adopted. (Whenever she is at a fair I'm attending I make sure I get to her stall first otherwise there will be no bears left!). My final recommendation is for a very different type of bear maker - Bear Bits make realistic looking brown bears, polar bears and pandas among others. They are of the highest standard and beautifully created. Yesterday I saw another stall selling a couple of very realistic bears. I will try and check out who they were because those bears were also magnificent.
I had checked out the Hugglets site to see who would be attending yesterday and fell in love with the rabbits created by The Rabbit Maker. Strangely enough this is an artist who only makes rabbits both as almost sculptured models and as 'traditional' rabbits. I decided to look at her stall but was sure common sense would prevail. Well, here is Fifi and isn't she gorgeous. She reminded me a little of someone just starting school and so seemed absolutely right for my situation (just over two weeks now to the MA induction). There is a saying that a bear chooses you and in this case I think the rabbit chose me because, whilst all of the rabbits on the stall were simply beautiful, I only had eyes for Fifi. That was officially it for me; budget was blown and I hadn't come looking for lots of bears to take home so I didn't buy anything else did I?
With a stone heart I walked past tens of other stalls, smiling at the beautiful bears and complimenting artists on bears that had already been sold. (Much safer, I find, if you praise a bear that is still up for adoption they may suggest you hold it and that way only purchasing lies!) I walked through the two main halls without so much as an itching to pick any bear up and then I climbed up to the upper floor. There was a stall with some lovely bears on and I was tempted to buy just one small one as they had such wonderful expressions but I turned around and saw Hahira (who you can see at the top of the page). I hadn't seen a lion at the fair before and this one had the most adorable expression - he looks so sad. I started talking to his maker and she explained he was created from recycled raccoon fur and invited me to feel how soft he was. I ummed and aahhed because I shouldn't really buy him but, he was beautiful and I already have so many bears, a lion would be a first. He's an Anglo-American lion, made in the Mid-West by a British artist so it seemed appropriate I should see him yesterday. I left the hall shortly after buying him. I had been there for quite a time and, more importantly, I couldn't trust myself not to fall in love with anything else.
So now you know the story of my trip to the bear fair and my complete lack of will-power. Did you know people who collect bears are called 'arctophiles' and I was glad that, even in such tough times, so many were out yesterday. I must try not to attend the fair in February tho' as it's very bad for my bank balance.
Hope you've been OK on this windy Monday (in the UK) and thanks for reading.