Friday, September 24, 2010

Fun Fur Facts Friday: Bears in Literature

Growing up, I was a voracious reader. I remember stacks of books coming home from the library with us, and that's not including the books wedged tightly into every inch of the bookcase in the living room. I know that my parents fostered a love of the written word and illustrations in me very early on because they read to me. They may have tired or grown a bit raspy in voice, but that doesn't stick out in my memory. Their loving gift of reading to me does.

And now, I still love to read, but I also do it as a profession. I am a proofreader for an advertising agency, once again exposed each day to words and images. I love my job, but that's not why I'm writing this blog post for you today, dear reader. Today I would like to take you back to your childhood, when you heard the classics, the fairy tales, the Mother Goose rhymes. And I know there are images in your head that might be different from mine.

Bears have their place in literature and legend. I would like to explore that subject some more in the coming season, but today, I'd like to share an illustration that so masterfully brings to life one of the most-loved classic fairy tales, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, attributed to the Brothers Grimm.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Scott Gustafson

As I look at the details in this painting (click for a larger view) by Scott Gustafson, one of my favorite painters, the story comes flooding back. I can almost picture myself there as it unfolds, as Goldilocks uses the belongings of all three bears and then retires for a nap. Imagine her shocked surprise in the next instant to see these three bears scrutinizing her!

There are many different versions of the story written for children, with likely just as many different illustrations of the key scenes of the story. What scene sticks out the most in your mind?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


I couldn't resist giving you a sneak peek of a little white bear I'm working on. He is only a head at the moment; I haven't even designed his body, arms, and legs yet. But his personality is already apparent. He looks a little mischievous, perhaps impish, don't you think?

Ah. Can you see his little grin? He has been making me grin, too.

As I work on my bears' heads, I place them in antique teacups on my desk. That way, I can look at them critically to see what else needs to be done. Seeing their faces also helps motivate me to finish them.

Next step for this little guy is to shade his face, and then I'll get out my pencil and paper to design the rest of him. I'm so glad he's patient.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A World Awash with Color

I've been finding lately that I've been enjoying color immensely. It's not that it wasn't there before, lurking in a shadow, warming up a cloud, beaming and refracting into a prismatic rainbow. No, I suppose it has always been around me, delighting my eyes, but recently I've been more aware of it.

I often cook a stew that is sort of this American's version of Ukrainian borscht.* (We adopted our daughters from Ukraine in 2009, and I loved the borscht in that beautiful, hospitable country!) As I cut the vegetables, the carrots and beets in particular tickle my eyes. Such wonderful color God has created in the simplest of things! So many vegetables and fruits are brightly colored, perhaps to alert us to those with the most nutritional punch.

In our home, we've added splashes of color here and there while leaving a lot of white to reflect the bright, sunny days we have so often here in Colorado. The sun peeking into the dining room and kitchen warms the curtains you see above--a dramatic backdrop for our culinary creations.

Of course, all this color awareness prompts me to use color in my teddy bear creations. My latest bear, Pumphrey the clown, has a beautiful combination of purple and gold. He is looking for a new adoptive home (see his post below), but is content for now to clown around the studio.

As I paw through my mohair fabrics to find the piece I will use for my next bear, I so enjoy seeing the colors and how they work with each other or even clash a bit. How can I use the flaming orange tipped piece? How can I use the red, the pink, the blue?

In my idea sessions for the bears I'll be making for the upcoming ONLINE Teddies Worldwide Holiday Bear Show, to which you are ALL invited, I've been dreaming in reds and golds and greens and twinkly ivory whites, and Christmas carols have been playing in my head. My bears are cut out, and the next task is to get my sewing machine humming. There's not much time until the show, happening November 20 and 21 (mark your calendars, and join the Crew's mailing list [use the box in the right-hand sidebar] to receive an e-mail reminder), so the fur has been flying here in the New Avenue Crew studio. But I can't reveal all the colors just yet!

*My borscht recipe is a simple one, and you can customize it to your tastes. Chop a bunch of the vegetables you like best (include some beets--they are required for borscht!). I use onion, celery, beets, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini and yellow squash, tomatoes, and green beans.

Saute onion and celery in a large pot in some coconut oil (a good fat) or butter over low to medium heat. When they are translucent or browned, whichever you prefer, add ground beef and brown. Then add homemade chicken or beef broth and your vegetables. I fill the pot with broth to just below the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for approximately 25 minutes (more or less depending on how done you like your vegetables).

Ladle hot soup into bowls and top with minced garlic and a dollop of sour cream (also very Ukrainian). When the soup has cooled a bit, you could also add some extra virgin olive oil for its rich taste and good nutrition. It's another good fat. Season to taste with sea salt. You could include some herbs while the soup is simmering, like dill (very Ukrainian) or thyme. Perhaps you would like to add freshly ground black pepper, too. Serve with some crusty bread, if you like. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Winner on Wednesday

This morning, I had a new comment on my blog. Even though it was from Michelle Palmer, I didn't really think much of it. Lo and behold, I read the comment and discovered that I was the winner of her latest blog giveaway for a lovely journal with a bird and quotation illustrated by Michelle herself!

(This image copyright Michelle Palmer)

So beautiful! I love illustrations, and Michelle is so talented. I've been over the moon all day!

When I was 5 years old, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. She wrote the answer in my "school days diary," and I remember what I said to this day: an artist and a mommy. My first love (artwise, anyway) was drawing. I even earned a bachelor's degree in fine art, though my emphasis was in graphic design. And I had always loved stuffed animals, so when I discovered bear making, I was smitten. Lately, I've been picking up pencil and paper much more often to sketch teddy bears and their friends. Someday, I just might share them with you!

Please go visit Michelle's blog and her Etsy store to see her fabulous work. And let me (and her!) know what you think.

Thank you so much, Michelle!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pumphrey the Clown

Happy Teddy Bear Day to everyone! A friend of mine told me it was Teddy Bear Day today, and I thought it was so fitting to introduce you to the newest Crew member today. Please meet Pumphrey the clown, who I've affectionately been calling my "grand experiment":

Why is he a grand experiment? A few posts ago, I shared that I had the crazy notion one day to design a two-piece head pattern instead of the typical three-part head with gusset piece. I also decided I wanted this bear to have a ski-slope profile, so I put pencil to paper and came up with a pattern with darts top and bottom. After I cut the pieces out of mohair and stitched them up and stuffed them, I worked on the face. The head sat in an antique teacup on my desk during the process so I could look at him, and he at me. He looked so funny when he only had pin heads for eyes! When I finished Pumphrey's head and liked it, I designed his body and limbs.

I wanted him to be very different, so here also I didn't do my typical traditional-style bear. Pumphrey has shorter limbs and a longer body, perfect for a clown! He also has a little tail!

Pumphrey is named after my great-great-great uncle (there might be another great in there somewhere), whose middle name was Pumphrey. He and his wife, Imelda, were affectionately known as Aunt Meldie and Uncle Pun. Looking at their portrait and the twinkle in Uncle Pun's eye, I can just imagine how their nicknames fit.

Pumphrey the clown bear is 13 inches (33 centimeters) tall and made from curly matted tan Helmbold mohair and a lovely purple Schulte mohair. He has gold wool felt paw pads and black glass eyes, his nose and mouth are embroidered with pearl cotton, and I've given him light shading on his face. Pumphrey has his very own clown hat with a vintage flower button from the button box of one of my grandmothers or great aunts. He is stuffed with polyester stuffing and plastic pellets and has a wobble head joint for those quirky clown poses.

If you would like Pumphrey to come live with you and keep you entertained, visit the AVAILABLE BEARS page on this site.

I have very much enjoyed creating Pumphrey and having him around the studio. I have been posting updates about him on my Facebook page as I've been making him, and I know I've kept many of you in suspense waiting to see him. I'm glad I'm finally able to share him with you!

I hope you've enjoyed meeting  Pumphrey the clown!

Note: You can click on the photos to see a larger version and more detail.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ben, My "Oldie" Bear

I'm happy to finally be able to introduce you to my "oldie" bear, Ben. This little Crew member is very special because he is the only one who actually lives on New Avenue. He arrived at my parents' home earlier this week, and my mom loves him.

It seems only fitting that Ben is living with my mom, because she is the one who found the short, soft, dense vintage upholstery mohair he is made from. She is also the one who introduced me to antique teddy bears and subsequently artist-made bears in the first place; we used to go to doll shows to look at the antique dolls she loved so much, and the teddy bears started appearing at those shows. I was smitten.

Mom has been asking me to make her a bear for years. Lest you think I'm a bad daughter, I want you to know that she had Oolong, the teatime kitty (pictured four posts below and in the sidebar), for a few years before giving him to my sister. And then I was in bear-making hibernation for a while, so there was no Crew member on New Avenue.

I started working on Ben many years ago, and he sat, partially completed, for quite a while. I always wanted him to appear to be older and well loved, so I took a deep breath and set to work "aging" him. You can see my brief post about the process called On Looking Old and Loved.

In the photos above, you can see Ben's worn areas, the "moth" holes in his wool felt paw pads, and the two little mending patches I sewed onto his arm and wrist. I made him a little shirt, too, my very first clothing design. (Did you know that I don't know how to sew clothes?) The shirt is adorned with antique buttons from one of my grandmas or great aunts.

I also took the plunge and aged his nose. I really like it!

Because he was completed on the fourth of July and has an Americana type of shirt, I decided to call him Ben after Benjamin Franklin. I thought he needed a sweet, simple name.

Before they each traveled to their new homes, I took a photo of Logan and Ben together. They are the two friends in the Quiet Conversations post below. I am glad they are both loved in their new homes.

Quiet Conversations

I've been wanting to share this post from my old WordPress blog with you, and now is the perfect time. Please enjoy this post about quiet conversations.
For the past few weeks, I have had my bears in progress sitting on my bed. Two of them always seem to end up in what looks like a conspiratorial pose, or one in which they are having a long chat or are looking lovingly into each others’ eyes…I always smile when I see them. I thought I would share a snapshot of them with you, even though they are not finished–a sneak peek at my sweet little chums in progress–and tell you what I think they might be discussing.

“Goodness, when do you think she will finally finish us?”

“I don’t know, but it’s been years in my case.”

“Mine, too!”

“Did you know that she is a proofreader during the day, and she’s a wife and mother, and she works on us in between everything else?”

“Oh! What’s a proofreader?”

“She makes sure that the written word sounds good, looks good…that kind of thing.”

“But why has it taken her so many years to make us?”

“She and her husband adopted their two teenage daughters last year. That took a long time.”

“I’m sure it did!”

“But you know, I’m really very glad she has come out of her bear-making hibernation so we can be loved and adopted one day, too!”

“Me, too!”

“By the way, though it has taken a few years for her to make you, she is going to ‘age’ you some more. Your fur is what they call ‘vintage’ upholstery mohair, and she has already given you some worn spots on your ear, forehead, and muzzle. Her mom collected antique dolls for many years, and so she became a fan of antique teddy bears. She has made one other ‘aged’ bear; he looked well loved. And that’s what she wants for you.”

“Oh! It must be a good thing to be loved.”

“I think it must be.”