Creating a place just for Teddy makes collecting even more enjoyable!
Displaying your collectible teddy bears can be just as fun and imaginative as when you were a child arranging stuffed animals around the table for a tea party. Whether you display your bears in one room or throughout your home, creating a special space for your treasured teddies adds to the delight of collecting.
“I definitely get to enjoy [my bears] more when they’re displayed, and other people can enjoy them as well,” says Andrea Shinn, a collector from Pitman, N.J., who has mostly Boyds bears, artist creations and Steiff teddies. “I tend to keep my Boyds bears separate from my artist and Steiff bears. I organize the Boyds by seasons and holidays. I tend to keep bears by the same artists together. Otherwise there’s no particular rhyme or reason to it.”
Whether you simply scatter your furry friends throughout your home or take a more organized approach, your bears can be a focal point and inspiration for decorating any room. You have spent time—not to mention money—gathering a collection of beautiful bears, so go ahead and show them off! Plus, setting up a bear room is therapeutic—it’s “bearapy”!
Shinn’s mother, Alice, who is also a bear collector, seems to agree. “I find that displaying my bears with different ideas is a way to relieve stress,” she says. “You get so involved with what you are doing that you become relaxed without realizing it. I can have a really stressful day and I can walk into the room where I have my bears displayed and I can feel the stress leaving me by the warmth and love I see in their faces. As I look at each of my bears, I think of each artist and all the time and love she or he spent making that bear especially for me.”
When collector Carol Proctor of Willowbrook, Ill., glimpses one of the hundreds of bears she has placed on shelves, chairs and cabinets in her house, she is also reminded of the people who created them. “I have artist bears because I love a lot of artists and I want to support them. And, I love the bears,” she says, noting she has so many bears in her house that if you want to sit down you have to move a bear. “Part of being a bear collector is having interaction with the artists. You form friendships. You form lasting relationships with these people and when you see the bears, you think of them.”
Make a Scene
Because of her respect for the artists and her love for her teddy bears, Proctor always tries to show off her collection in the best light. She recommends showing bears at different heights in the room and in smaller groupings if possible, and says it is a good idea to have a theme. Because she likes antiques, she incorporates them with her bears. “Think about things that you like to do and intersperse them with your bears,” she says. “It’s like your personality goes along with the bears.”
Bear-size furniture, toys, dolls and seasonal decorations are just a few items that make excellent accents in a bear room. Pairing small bears with larger ones also works well. Remember as a child how your stuffed animals served as students and patients in imaginary schools and hospitals? Relive those days of make-believe! If you have a penchant for pretend, picking a few special accessories and arranging your bears in various scenes can be fun for both you and those who visit your collection. Your bear room becomes your own personal museum.
“Many of our bears are placed together like families,” says collector Debbie Tinsley of Zeigler, Ill. She and her husband, Stan, have an eclectic collection of more than 1,000 teddy bears displayed throughout their home (including in their garage and vehicles). In one room, teddies sit on chairs at a small table having a tea party. In another, bears sit at the piano. Upstairs, two big, romantic bears relax in an antique bathtub. Bears are everywhere! “It has been wonderful fun to look about our home and see the many unusual friends we have collected over the years, and to remember stories of how this collection came to be,” Tinsley notes.
Mary Holtzman also enjoys creating vignettes and recalling stories about her treasured teddies. Her husband, Ed, estimates she has more than 6,000 bears displayed in their large Florida home. “I often give the bears games to play—tic-tac-toe, cars, balls, jacks, et cetera,” she shares. “I set them up with things to do.”
Inside the Holtzmans’ home, bears are scattered everywhere—on chairs and tables and on shelves in every room, and several trees are decorated with bears year-round. The dining room has three lighted china closets, and most of her smaller bears are under glass. You’ll also find bears riding scooters and bicycles, while outside three bears climb a tree. A giant bruin holds the mailbox and three polar bears relax in back by the swimming pool. Bear lamps, tables with bear bases and carved wooden bears are also part of the collection.
“When I started collecting I never thought I would be collecting this many bears,” Holtzman admits. The couple even added a room onto their home just for the teddies. “I call it my Christmas room,” she says. “It has polar bears, all my Christmas bears, plus a Steiff train and a lot of circus stuff.”
Change Things Up
If you aren’t able to devote a room solely to your teddy bears or don’t have the space to display all your bears at once, you can still decorate with your collection. Change your displays with the holidays or seasons, or group similar bears together in the same room or space and trade out the group when you desire.
“I decorate my house with bears, and many of the bears are grouped in displays according to theme, color, size or clothing,” notes Beth Phillips of Leesburg, Fla. “For example, I have one shelf with various Pooh bears and another display of bears wearing black velvet and leopard-print clothing. Most of the displays stay essentially the same, but I have one buffet that is a rotating display area. I change that display with the seasons and holidays, and those seasonal or holiday bears are packed away the rest of the year. I love to do the rotating displays, and when I unpack the bears for the next display it’s like shopping in my own house. I fall in love with them all over again!”
Collector Diane Damon of Tucson, Ariz., suggests planning out what you want to accomplish visually when setting up a bear display but notes you should “let your imagination run as free as you can wish it, and don’t be afraid to experiment with some trial and error.” She visits local craft fairs for accessories such as bear-size bicycles, benches, chairs and wagons, or even possible backdrop items such as cutout castles or cottages to display with her bears.
“I’ve displayed [my bears] in the family room and living room on special shelves, bookcases and sitting on a spare sofa and in chairs, on the hearth of the fireplace—although not while seasonally in use!—seated in miniature chairs, benches and wagons, sitting astride miniature bicycles and rocking horses, peeking out from TV cabinets, peering down while climbing the ropes of hanging macramé potted plants, standing or sitting on end tables and sofa tables or simply on the carpet—you name it!” Damon’s teddy bears also sit at the computer, peek from dresser drawers and rest atop antique hatboxes. At one time or another, she has displayed various items of non-plush bearabilia in her kitchen and bathrooms.
However you choose to showcase your bears, Tinsley says, “Go with your heartfelt emotions of what makes you happiest. Don’t worry about what others might think. Let the love and personality of your collection set the guidelines to your enjoyment. It is great fun to let the whimsy and adoration of your critters set the stage.”
Cleaning and Storage: An ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of fur!
Once you have taken time to set up an eye-catching display, you want to keep it looking good and prevent damage from dust and insects. Periodically clean your bears with a small vacuum brush or a small sweeper with a nylon hose on the end. A soft toothbrush works well for cleaning most miniature bears. To prevent fading, keep collector bears away from direct or semi-direct sunlight, as well as possible accidental damage from cleaning fluids, bleach and any other harsh chemicals. Be careful when displaying bears near windows, and consider putting special coating or room-darkening blinds on windows in your bear room.
Bear collector Diane Damon cautions collectors to watch for insects and small rodents that might assault one’s precious collection, particularly if any bears are stored in a basement or attic. “I always keep a wary eye out for any bugs that might attack the bears’ fur or clothing. Moths, in particular, can wreak havoc upon one’s prized bears if not destroyed at first sight,” she notes. Lavender-scented moth balls and cedar placed among the bears can often help with pest control.
Not only is Damon a collector of bears, she has also been a secondary-market specialist reseller of bears since the very early 1980s, offering the largest inventory in the world of North American Bear Co.’s VIBs. “Years ago I had a special ‘bear house’ built for safe storage of almost all my selling inventory of mint-condition collectible bears,” she says. “Each bear is either individually plastic-bagged or kept in its original packaging, then stored away in sturdy, specially purchased cardboard boxes to keep them absolutely safe and sound.”
When storing any bears, Damon wraps them in individual, specially purchased plastic bags with coated ties to keep them safe from dust, water and insects. “And, of course, whether in a basement, garage or storage, be sure to keep your prized bears-in-hibernation up where they will be protected from possible seasonal rain damage,” she adds.
Writer and bear collector Beth Phillips also offers a few suggestions for keeping your collection in tiptop shape. She notes that plush or soft-sculpture bears should not be exposed to regular moisture like in a bathroom that is regularly used. She suggests putting silica gel packets in closed places like curio cabinets to keep the moisture out. Phillips also advises keeping valuable bears away from pets and small children. “A room with a door that closes and locks is best to avoid accidents,” she says. “Keep some inexpensive bears for little ones to play with when they visit to deal with the temptation.”