Photos courtesy of YuYu Bear
It’s been said that fences make good neighbors. With that in mind, consider how oceans make potentially good neighbors into distant strangers. I’m reminded of that as I sit down to post this week’s The Plush Life. Last spring, I had the chance to communicate with a very interesting and expressive bear artist named Rita Y.Y. Ng.
She came across as such an upbeat, fun-loving woman. However, I live on the East Coast of America, and she lives in Hong Kong. Talk about how territories definitely impact who gets invited to your house for a Saturday get-together! That’s why these Plush Life snapshots of bear artists and their internal monologues are so enjoyable to write. It’s a way to swing open a door to someone who is like-minded but dwells a world away.
Ng feels that the number of Chinese bear artists is a small one. She has thought about this a great deal and attributes it to cultural bias. “In Hong Kong, where I live, teddy bears are treated as toys for children. When I try to explain to others that I create bears for adult collectors, mainly who live overseas, they are so surprised that such a market exists,” she explained. “They cannot believe it! They are stunned to hear about this. It’s just not a part of their life.”
Luckily for Ng, collectors from around the globe have discovered her sweet and sassy (never sour) critters. In fact, as Westerners become more and more exposed to Chinese culture — through movies, books, sporting events — they are interested in buying and collecting items that have an Asian flair. “People are becoming more accustomed to Chinese culture,” Ng stated. “More and more people are welcoming the ‘dim sum’ bears.”
For the uninitiated, dim sum is a style of Chinese cooking where food is prepared as individual bite-sized portions. Traditionally, dim sum is served in bamboo steamers. “I will sometimes create bears that measure 3 to 4 inches and fit in mini bamboo steamers,” she explained jubilantly. “Collectors really respond to the ‘dim sum’ panda bears. They find them adorable.”
Ng has a special fondness for panda bears: “They have served as China’s national emblem. It is fun to create panda bears, especially with a different color combination. You can do something with a color combination that is different from black and white. I like those kind of challenges.”
Over the past eight or so years, Ng has been learning different techniques and skills to fashion her bears and their companions. “Such experimental form of learning not only enhanced my bear-making skills, but also helped to achieve the sweet, round faces with puffy cheeks that are a trademark of YuYu Bears. Besides needle and scissor sculpting, I also apply needle-felting skills to give my bears round noses of wool,” she informed me.
In addition to her needle-felting techniques, Ng has incorporated embroidery into her finished creations. She has embroidered noses on her bears and bunnies, and she has embroidered flowers, names, and dates on the creatures’ footpads: “I especially do embroidery on my wedding bears. All my creations have the letter ‘Y’ embroidered on their footpads symbolizing YuYu Bear.”
Approaching a decade in the ursine universe, Ng didn’t want to slow down or to repeat herself. She always digs into her inner resources and enthusiastically pulls out a new face, pose, or motif. “I enjoy creating individuality for each bear and keep experimenting to bring my ideas alive,” she revealed. “My interest in making artist bears grows as the bears are born from my imagination and then grow into loveable designs.”
Over her career, the artist has noticed a transformation and an evolution to her offerings. “My previous creations are quite different from what I’m making. Now I create artist bears and their friends of a different variety — they go from miniature to small to medium sizes. I also can make big bears if commissioned.”
During our correspondence, Rita Ng pointed out that she loved her shop set up on Etsy and also taking part in online bear shows. However, at that time, she dreamed of attending an actual brick-and-mortar gathering: “It was a great experience taking part in the online show, but I hope I’ll participate in a real bear show someday. I would like to meet collectors and other bear artists in person. It would be so much fun! I can hope for that to happen one day!”