Courtesy of Boyds Bears, Jim Shore’s past and present patch together in a seamless blend of quilting quaintness and folksy whimsy.
While other little boys spent their childhoods dreaming of becoming firemen, cowboys or astronauts, Jim Shore, well-known creator of the “Heartwood Creek” line of collectibles, “knew” at the age of four that he was an artist. This revelation came to him one day when he drew a picture of his neighborhood. “I can still see it in my mind, and I shocked myself at how good it was,” Shore admits decades later. The four-year-old took the picture, an outdoor scene with buildings and birds, and showed it to his parents, and he remembers surprising them, too, with his drawing skills. Looking at what he had created satisfied something deep inside, and continues to satisfy him today.
Shore grew up in small-town South Carolina, surrounded by an unusually creative family. His grandmother was a master quilter and seamstress who also knitted, crocheted and tatted lace. His mother and aunt also quilted, and he remembers how his mother had some type of modeling clay. He began to play with it, making things that were fired in the oven. Again, he discovered how much it meant to be able to create things with his hands.
Although young Jim grew up in a fairly small town, he was fortunate enough to have a “real art teacher,” Miss Edith Keeler, come to the school once a week for art class. Miss Keeler had, in fact, been his mother’s art teacher. She recognized quickly that Jim had a real gift for art, and he went to her home once a week to work with her one-on-one. “She made art fun, and helped me understand how I saw things the way I did. Miss Edith taught me proportion and balance,” Shore shares.
While Shore did graduate from college, it was not art that he had studied. Instead, he studied engineering and business. Shore hoped to find work as an architect or a commercial artist. Architecture is truly a marriage of form and function, and the artist credits his interest in it, and his engineering background, for helping him in his current life. “I approach my artwork from a technical perspective, and I approach my engineering from an aesthetic perspective.”
Shore also recalls being struck by the simple beauty of the handmade furniture he often saw in local homes. Since many families had been immigrants, their furniture often bore witness to their memories of similar items from their homelands. The Norwegian art of rosemaling, of making functional things beautiful, combined with the hand of an untrained artist, resulted in many fine examples of American Folk Art. Shore has the highest appreciation for folk art, which he describes as “common people doing wonderful things,” resulting in art that “represents honesty in a charming way. I drank it all in.”
After graduating, he worked as an engineer, but continued to develop his artistic and sculpting abilities, and was able to find a market for the figurines he had begun to sculpt and paint. Eventually he had enough orders to start a factory. When the demands of running a business began to interfere with his artistic endeavors, he sought out a suitable business partner. Shore partnered with Enesco in 2000, creating “Heartwood Creek,” a partnership that has proved to be profitable and satisfying to both.
He has since received a number of prestigious awards from the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers, including the Rising Star Award in 2002, and Artist of the Year in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Through Enesco and other partners, such as Department 56 and Manual Woodworkers and Weavers, his line has expanded to include accessories like tote bags, home décor, kitchen and dining items, and outdoor décor. Recently he began to offer his figurines through the shopping channel QVC, where sales of his items have exceeded all expectations.
“My goal from the beginning was to do good art, not make money or be famous,” Shore elaborates. He truly loves what he is doing, and still looks forward to going to work every day. He has been able to indulge his architectural interests by designing some of his own work buildings, as well as a few homes for friends. But there was one nagging, unfulfilled desire that continued to eat at him, and it had to do with an old, beat-up teddy bear.
Shore explains that he had a brother, and together, they shared a bear. He doesn’t remember where it came from or whom it was originally given to; he just knows he loved that bear. As boys will do, he and his brother played with that bear, had adventures with it, and, he sheepishly admitted, “beat it up a few times.” That bear became worn, torn and frayed, and his mom would have to patch and sew it back together. Eventually it came to look like, in Shore’s words, “a frumpy little bean bag.” Interestingly, as the bear became more worn from loving play, he grew to love it more.
So, for nearly 20 years, Shore kept thinking about that bear, and how much he would like to make one. He wanted to create a bear with a story, a history. He imagined a bear that would incorporate his colorful designs. Shore has a friend who owns a gift store that sells his Heartwood Creek items, along with the Boyds Bear line. This friend knew of his dreams of a bear, and encouraged him to talk to Boyds about making one. Shore read about Boyds, about their business philosophy, and found that “I liked the Boyds story.” He truly wanted bears that the average person could buy or collect, and so a seed was planted.
Over the years, he had informal discussions with various folks at Boyds, but nothing definite came of the talks. Shore watched as Boyds tackled their bankruptcy issue and came out the other side quickly, with new management in place, especially a guy by the name of Bob Coccoluto, or Bob C., as he likes to be called.
Shore met Bob C. and “we have become good friends, even gone to a few ball games together.” He talked to Bob C. about his idea for a “rag doll” version of a bear. Shore described something well made, with good strong artwork. Boyds was interested. For years, Shore had sketched and imagined his concept for a bear. He anticipated an agonizing process of being able to accurately communicate his ideas and bring them to life. When he saw the first prototype, he admits, “I was thrilled. Boyds ‘got it.’” It only took one round of minor changes and Shore had prototypes that were just as he had pictured, but without the artwork. They had arms and legs that buttoned on. They were slightly underfilled to give them a somewhat saggy appearance. They had the look of an old friend.
After he “played with the bears” for a while, he got out his paints and started painting the bears. He painted right onto their round tummies and paws and ears. “When I was finished, they were EXACTLY what I wanted. Oh, it was a thrill!”
The result of this collaboration is the new Jim Shore line of Boyds Bears. Even though the Boyds Collection Ltd. is making the bears, they all carry a special Jim Shore tush tag and specially designed Jim Shore hang tag, something Boyds has never done. The adorable bean-filled bears have bright, colorful Jim Shore designs on their tummies, paw pads and ears. Shore chose themes and patterns that are close to his heart for this group. He hopes in the near future to make some accessories that can be displayed with the bears, something to create appealing vignettes.
Shore is truly grateful for his partnership with Boyds and describes their current management as a “dream team.” The artistic and colorful designs of Jim Shore combined with the quality and affordability of Boyds Bears equals a fresh new concept in teddy bears. Hopefully, when you hold one of these unique bears, you will do so with an appreciation of how they came to be. Jim Shore certainly appreciates this chance “to be a part of teddy bear history.”