It’s twice the fun as family members Jane and Jared Monroe roll up their sleeves and create.
Bears and bunnies: The two breeds seem to go together like a hand in a glove or, more fittingly, a paw in a mitten. These two cuddly critters have long adorned cutely decorated bedrooms and friendly, folksy living rooms.
When it comes to excelling at bears and hares, two names stand out in the field: C. Riffenberg Bear Co. and Jare Hares & Bears. What’s unique about these two artistic powerhouses is that they are related by more than just similar themes and travel schedules. The talented hands behind these bruins and rabbits are mother and son: Jane Monroe, the founder of C. Riffenberg, and Jared Monroe, the proprietor of Jare Hares & Bears. (Keeping the family tree alive, the impressive Riffenberg name comes from Carrie Riffenberg, Jane’s great-great-great-grandmother, who was a maker of fine laces during the late 1800s.)
Trained as a registered nurse—and also adept at advertising and marketing—Jane has always achieved success in her professional endeavors. She has worked in the health field, the newspaper business and the banking industry. She’s raised two children, of whom she is enormously proud, and juggled an antiques business as well.
During her years in the antiques field, she accumulated a variety of vintage fabrics. And, in 1982, she thought it might be a nice selling tool to position some old-fashioned-looking teddy bears on her finished furniture. Having always been skilled with a needle and thread, Jane took matters into her own hands. Presto! A whole new world swung open to her. Twenty-five years later, she’s still creating bears (and an occasional kitty and puppy) that are warm, whimsical and absolutely wondrous.
Son Jared, who turned 31 this August, began his crafts journey in junior high. While other students were busy counting coins and selling lemonade, he was fashioning bunnies and bears as a full-fledged entrepreneur. “I formed Jare Hares in 1990. I wasn’t scared, but I was very excited,” Jared admits. “I was in business! How many eighth graders can say that? I wanted to create my business, and my mother encouraged me.”
The two Monroes share a fabulous support system with one another. They are there to celebrate the triumphs and to commiserate if times ever get tough. Jane feels all people should follow their dreams and strive for their goals. The same way she encouraged Jared and his sister, Jessie, to follow their hearts, she urges anyone with a creative bent to “go for it!”
“Creating something is one of the most satisfying things a person can do,” Jane affirms. “It gives a great sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Go to shows, talk to artists and read all you can about bear making. Look for inspiration, and be persistent. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but most of all, have fun and enjoy what you’re doing.”
Between mom and son, the Monroes have logged 42 years in the collectibles market. During that time, they’ve been lauded and honored by their peers. They’ve attained recognition as quality artists, reliable business people and truly nice human beings. What more could anyone want?
Teddy Bear Review sat down with Jane and Jared to chat about the past three decades of bear and bunny collecting, and wondered if “family ties” are ever tied a little too tightly.
What did you hope to teach your children, and do you think you succeeded in imparting your wisdom?
Jane: I wanted to teach my children Christian principles for living—to love the Lord, to be responsible for their actions, to have respect for and deal honestly with others, to be kind and treat others as they would like to be treated. Since I have the two greatest children in the world, I would say that I was successful!
Do you think you “pressured” Jared into going into the collectibles industry?
Jane: When I first started making bears, I would get many requests for rabbits. However, I was so busy making bears that there just didn’t seem to be any time for that. Jared kept telling me that I SHOULD make rabbits, and one day, when he had been particularly insistent, I was becoming somewhat exasperated. Finally I said to him, “If you think there should be rabbits, then you make them!” He went and drew his first rabbit pattern, and the rest is history.
How did you discover you had that artistic capability? Where did that confidence come from?
Jared: I was sewing scraps of fabric together for most of my childhood. I learned to knit, crochet and sew at an early age. My parents did antique shows when I was younger, and at many shows I would find a ball of string and knit with pencils on my fingers. My mother always encouraged my artistic abilities. I looked forward to art and music classes in school, and when I was in junior high, I would usually complete my projects before other students and work on extra projects.
What distinguishes your bunnies and bears? Do you have a signature trait?
Jared: The big-head designs were inspired from the artists that brought the anime style over from Japan. However, I wanted to create my own style, which I did, and have had great success with it. Many people have commented that my big-head bunnies remind them of comic book characters from the 1920s and ’30s. In high school, I read a book that talked about the history of comics. Those characters have always stuck in my head.
Jane: I’ve always been fond of antiques and folk art, so I’ve tried to give my designs a combination of both looks. I also want my pieces to look happy and make people smile as they look at them.
In addition to your incredible bears, you also make fabulous cats. When did this feline fancy begin for you?
Jane: I do love cats, and over the years have been owned by many of them! I designed my first cat pattern somewhere around 1995. By adding cats to my designs, I hoped to reach additional collectors.
Who do you picture as the perfect collector for your creations?
Jane: I’d say anyone who has a love for teddy bears. One of the greatest benefits of this industry is the incredibly wonderful individuals I have had the privilege of meeting over the years—collectors and artists. Teddy bear people allow their inner children to surface from time to time and just have fun.
If you could give your animals to anyone on earth as a way to cheer them up, who would it be?
Jared: I don’t know that I really have a choice—my niece will come over and grab the ones that she likes and then haul them all around until I can get them back from her, usually after she goes home. In a perfect world, I would give my creations to children, particularly children suffering from illness. There is nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when he or she receives something.
Since the two of you tour together, what is the best part of being a family on the road together?
Jane: Well, certainly the companionship is the best part, and knowing that I can rely on Jared no matter what happens. Also, having Jared around to do the heavy lifting!
Jared: Trying to figure out the fastest and easiest way to a show.
What’s the worst part of being a family on the road together?
Jane: Trying to keep up with Jared at the airport.
What would make you happier: Winning several awards in one year or seeing the other family member win those awards?
Jane: Most definitely seeing Jared get the awards. While I appreciate the awards that I have been given, it means a great deal more to me to see Jared recognized for his efforts.
Jared: Seeing my mom win the awards would make me very happy. She has worked hard for a very long time and deserves to be recognized for her efforts and her contributions.
How do you feel to be the matriarch of an art dynasty?
Jane: To be honest, I never thought about myself that way. I just wanted to share with my children, and now my granddaughter, the things that my folks, who were both very artistic, taught me. I feel very blessed to have such wonderful children who are carrying on some of those same talents.