Photos courtesy of Cooper Bears
When I had the chance to chat via e-mail with Kay Cooper, I found her to be delightful, candid, and totally full of surprises. One of the biggest reveals was that the Western Australian artist, who told me proudly “I love being an Aussie,” was actually born in England. Now residing a world away, Cooper respects her birthplace, but she totally identifies with her adopted homeland. In fact, the more laidback, nature-oriented reputation of being “an Aussie” suits Cooper just fine.
Her penchant for four-legged creatures is what helped to sway her to kick off her journey in the soft-animal world. Like a “proper young lady,” Cooper had always been smitten by dolls. She earned a solid reputation as a cloth-doll maker, and was absolutely content with her achievements. But then one fateful day, her husband brought home a teddy bear kit.
“Deep down I always thought about making a bear,” she confessed, “but I was prevented by my fear of failing. I worried, what if I messed up? What if it didn’t turn out the way I expected? What if I couldn’t do it? I really was afraid of not being able to do it, and wasting money on a foolish pursuit.”
Cooper shouldn’t have fretted. She tried her hand at the kit, and it was like an imaginary light bulb went off in her head. Suddenly, her future was bright and in focus: “I was hooked! I realized this is what I need to do.” This was 20-plus years ago, and Cooper has thrown herself into the bear-and-critter world with total abandon.
“It is truly my passion,” she wrote. “It always makes me happy. I cannot be in a bad mood when I am creating my bears.”
Admitting that she “loves this field,” Cooper has nothing but high praise for the bear colleagues she has met over the course of her career: “It sounds like an exaggeration that the world’s nicest people are bear makers, but I really find that to be true. Bear makers are generous with their time, their talent, and their assistance. There is no jealousy. They help you and give advice. That is helpful for new artists and for people who have been creating for a long time. They encourage you and they give you support.”
Cooper also can’t say enough about the collectors and fans she’s corresponded with over the years. “My collectors are wonderful. They are loyal and they are good people. I love my collectors,” she enthuses.
When asked about her “artistic mission,” Cooper responded succinctly: “A bear should make you smile.” Her ever-growing menagerie does just that. It’s impossible to take a gander at her different species and not find your mouth curving upward. They all do deliver grins big-time.
What is especially remarkable is that Cooper initially had anxiety about creating a single cub. She explained that she was often her own worst critic. “If I didn’t like how a bear was turning out, I would give up. If I thought they weren’t good enough, I would just give up on them. I think it was a lack of self-confidence,” she shared. Now she is able to ply her handiwork for all manner of beasts — realistic or fantastical.
She is also confident enough to accept commissions and special requests. She no longer has anxiety about leaving her so-called comfort zone. A case in point is her adorable orangutan that absolutely deserves to be ogled and applauded. It is a delightful and quirky creation: “Her name is ‘Tamara,’ and she was a request from a customer who wanted to put her with her display of body-shop products. This was a brand-new pattern for me, and it did take some time to work out her hands and her feet.” Despite any trepidation she might have felt, Cooper put it aside and she dove right in.
“I like to design,” Cooper affirmed. “I like a good challenge! A challenge and a brand-new theme always pique my interest.”
Having spent more than 20 years in the ursine universe, Kay Cooper expressed how grateful she was to have found her niche in life: “Bear making is my happy place, and I am happy to be doing it.” Her business’s website earnestly states, “Cooper Bears hold the keys to your heart.” They hold the keys to hers as well!