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Fashioning a Fairy Tale PDF Print E-mail
Written by Trina Laube   
Friday, 01 August 2008 00:00

“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is the newest chapter of stunning storybook characters from R. John Wright.


The endearing dolls and animals from R. John Wright Dolls in Bennington, Vt., are what fairy tales are made of. Their expressive faces and unparalleled detail enliven quintessential characters that once only lived in our imaginations or illustrated the pages of our favorite books. From Alice in Wonderland to Winnie-the-Pooh, John and his wife and creative partner, Susan, create classic characters that are sought after by doll and bear collectors and fairytale fans alike. At the R. John Wright Workshop and Studio in Vermont, a highly skilled team of 25 trained artisans puts each limited edition into production.

 

“The Wrights are unrivaled at bringing our storybook favorites to life by using the finest materials and being faithful to the original illustrations,” says Barrie Shapiro, co-owner of The Toy Shoppe in Richmond, Va. “We know that our collectors will always be delighted when their selections are received—they arrive exactly as they should, exactly as they imagined.”

 

R. John Wright’s “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” are the stars of a photo-storybook to be released by Puffin Books in fall 2008. “Mama Bear,” “Papa Bear” and “Baby Bear” are offered in an edition of 250 sets. The captivating trio is priced at $1,875. “Goldilocks,” 12¼ inches, is offered separately in an edition of 350 for $725.R. John Wright’s latest storybook collection, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” continues the company’s storied excellence. The 12¼-inch felt “Goldilocks” doll, with her adorable golden curls and sweet summer dress, is destined to become a classic. And “Papa Bear,” “Mama Bear” and “Baby Bear” appear to have stepped right off the pages of the classic tale.

 

One of the most well-known childhood stories, Goldilocks and the Three Bears tells of a young girl with beautiful blond locks. Wandering into the woods, she comes across a cottage and discovers no one is home. She sees three bowls of porridge on the table and takes a taste of each one, finding the smallest to be “just right.” She tries out the bears’ three chairs (breaking the smallest one) and then their three beds, finally settling into the smallest one and quickly falling fast asleep. The Three Bears return to find all that Goldilocks has done—and that she is asleep in Baby Bear’s bed! When she awakens and finds the bears staring down at her, she runs from the cottage to the safety of her home.

 

“It is one of the all-time classic children’s stories and has certainly stood the test of time. It has a very simple and direct storyline with a great contrast between the lovely little girl and the gruff, rustic bears. It works on several levels as both a cautionary tale and a fantasy,” John says.

 

When, in 2006, children’s book author Lauren Childs and photographer Polly Borland asked the Wrights to design a set of bears and a doll to be used in a new Goldilocks photo-storybook, John and Susan were thrilled with the idea. “[Lauren and Polly] had previously collaborated on a very successful Princess and the Pea storybook, and they were big fans of our work,” says John, noting that Puffin Books (U.K.) plans to release the book this fall. “We had long wanted to do a Goldilocks series and this provided the impetus to do it.”

 

Just like Goldilocks had to try each bowl of porridge, each chair and each bed, John says they had to try a few options before arriving at the final bear designs. “There are many illustrators who depicted the Three Bears and these were generally referred to in coming up with our design,” John explains. “Full-scale sketches established the size and scale of the pieces to one another. From there we made sample bears, which were honed and refined until we achieved the desired result. In doing something like this for the first time there is a great deal of trial and error involved.

 

“These are the most realistic bears we’ve ever done and that presented a challenge to us,” John continues. “My own personal favorite in the group is ‘Papa Bear.’ He stands on his own quite effectively and reminds me of the carved wood Black Forest bears, which I’ve always admired.”

 

Sporting a vest and hat, 16-inch Papa Bear carries a custom-made wooden pipe in one of his vest pockets. He is the first-ever R. John Wright bear with teeth. Standing 15 inches tall, Mama Bear comes with an apron for indoors and a cape for her walks in the woods, and 8 inch Baby Bear is adorable with his bib and alternate jacket. “We wanted to merely suggest their domesticity without fully covering them up with clothing,” John notes.

 

Papa Bear and Mama Bear are fashioned from alpaca plush, while Baby Bear is made from a wool/mohair blend. Each bear has felt paw pads, resin claws, a leather nose and glass eyes. They are fully jointed and stuffed with a combination of cotton and kapok. An interior wrist movement was also added so the bears could be more expressive when posed for the book’s photographs.

 

R. John Wright created his first bear in 1984—a Winnie-the-Pooh that came with a Christopher Robin doll. Since then, R. John Wright has designed several other Pooh bears, such as this “Nighttime Winnie-the-Pooh” (released in 1998), as well as additional characters from A. A. Milne’s classic tales. Many other treasured storybook characters have followed.To create the detailed expressions of the R. John Wright critters, the faces of the bears are molded in metal molds. The heads (and sometimes entire bodies) are first sculpted in clay and then in wax before the final molds are cast. “To our knowledge, we don’t know of anyone else doing this particular type of process with plush,” John says. “This adds greatly to the sculptural quality and assures that there is consistency in the edition.”

 

The Toy Shoppe has been offering R. John Wright’s creations to collectors worldwide since 1978 and owner Barrie, along with husband and co-owner Danny, has long admired the Wrights’ art. “Their materials and approach to bear making are fresh and innovative, creating their own special look and resulting in some of the most amazing and wonderful bear creations we have ever seen,” she notes.

 

Since creating his first doll in 1976 and incorporating R. John Wright Dolls in 1984, John has become widely recognized for his fabulous felt dolls and appealing animal characters. In 1985, the company released its first bear—an 8-inch Winnie-the-Pooh, which accompanied a Christopher Robin doll. “Character animals in particular often take on human qualities, so it was not much of a leap for us to go from designing dolls to designing storybook animals and bears,” John notes. A year after introducing Pooh, they began designing the other animal characters from Hundred Acre Wood: Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, and Kanga and Roo.

 

The “White Rabbit” from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is just one of the many delightful storybook characters R. John Wright has created over the years. Introduced in 2006, the alpaca hare is limited to 250 pieces.During the past two decades, several storybook characters stepped off the pages and into the R. John Wright studio: Paddington Bear, Curious George, Peter Rabbit and other Beatrix Potter animal characters, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, and the Camel with the Wrinkled Knees from the Raggedy Ann books.

 

“It is difficult to say which of their storybook characters have been the most popular—they all are!” Barrie says. “From the original ‘Little Prince,’ created in 1983 exclusively for our shop, to ‘Babes in the Wood’ created last year, there is not one edition that has not been in demand and quickly sold out.”

 

Collectors will agree that with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, R. John Wright has once again gotten it “just Wright.” The set will be available this summer through all R. John Wright authorized retailers.