Photos courtesy of Jellybelly Bears
With the change of seasons, many folks are tempted to wax poetically about the tumbling leaves and the falling foliage. I, too, am aware that autumn is just about to envelop us, but I can make that observation due to the lack of falling fur.
Yes, my cat, Annie, is a walking, mewling weather barometer. As we get nearer to lower temperatures, her record-high shedding begins to cease and desist. In my home, a colder outside means a cleaner inside. Yep, a cooler meteorology report means that Annie will stop her relentless hair dropping. (It’s like a feline version of the Times Square ball drop. It’s a seasonal event.)
Thinking about autumn got me to muse about Australian bear artist Sarah Medina, whom I have been lucky enough to count as a bear colleague and Facebook friend for a long, long time. Extremely prolific when her health permits, Sarah has created a huge portfolio of fantastical, whimsical critters. Known as Jellybelly Bears, Sarah’s cubs, cats, bunnies, pups, and assorted imaginative beings are all adorable and attainable. When she’s not feeling under the weather — Sarah has endured bouts of chronic psoriatic arthritis and ligament/tendon swelling — she concocts creatures that are supernatural and naturally superb.
After a three-year hiatus, Sarah unveiled her bear Autumn in March 2016, and its delicate features and winsome looks were heart-tugging and soul-clutching. This was a little bear that was begging to come home. Over the years, I’ve profiled Sarah Medina a few times, and her Autumn creation truly touched me. It was a clarion call that she would not let her debilitating illness stop her from being emotionally inspired and from heeding what she feels inside.
Sarah made her first bear in 1999, and after perfecting 40 bears, she decided she was seasoned enough to forge her own patterns and designs. Because she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune problem as a teenager, she was often house-bound and became adept at arts and crafts. Working at home on different creative projects became a pastime, a physical form of therapy, and a mental outlet for the teen. Studying and then improving her sewing and design skills, she found that her segue into becoming a bear artist came easily and naturally. It was 2002 — an impressive 15 years ago.
“So much of myself can be expressed through my work, and every part of the process makes my spirit sing,” she explained to me. “Having to cope with physical setbacks has taught me to do things a little differently, and to look at the business in a more relaxed way. After not making anything for three years, I had to move past the frustrations and leap into finding new ways to do things. For instance, I had to learn to use my left hand more, and I had to figure out new techniques that I can physically manage.” This conversation happened in 2016, and there has been a lull in the Jellybelly studio, but all of Medina’s collectors, colleagues, and friends hope that more critters will be pouring forth.
In our chat, Sarah mentioned, “My favorite part is firing up my imagination and putting all of my skills into practice to make something I am merely imagining become a physical reality. Having a three-year break — from 2013 to 2016 — I learned a few important things. The first thing I learned is that I didn’t just fall into making bears as a result of having bad health. I really and truly love it. It makes me happy and it makes me feel stronger.”
Many of Medina’s offerings have a fantasy flair to them. She is quite at home with a menagerie of pixies, fairies, gnomes, dragons, and other mythical beasts. “I don’t think you are ever too old to love a picture book and be transported by the artwork and the story,” she admitted. “The feeling of comfort and relaxation, and the simplicity of a children’s story, refreshes your outlook. I hope that that feeling comes across in my work, plucked from a storybook’s moment in time.”
Frequently Sarah will make tiny bears — critters that are petite and portable in the palm of a hand. “I have always imagined little beings living in their little world, right there in front of us, and most of us never even see them. My little creations come straight from those little worlds,” she declared.
Medina’s “real world” is her home in Australia, and she gathers much of her inspiration from the landscape that surrounds her: “I think my work also reflects the untouched beauty in my country. We have huge skies and lots of light, even in the winter. The light will help us see the magic in moments, the glistening in the dewdrops, or glittering in the trees. If you are still, you can very easily feel the fairies flitting about you. You can sense it, even without using your imagination!”
To mirror Medina’s unconventional worldview, she utilizes certain accessories and accents to imbue her creations with that otherworldly charm. “I like to incorporate glitter and crystals and iridescent wings onto my characters. I like to capture the magic of the moment for always, and then to gift it onto others,” she enthused.
All of Sarah Medina’s fans and friends hope that her plush path will continue to expand, and she will once more be gifting all of us with her recognizable small wonders. “I hope my creations help people find their individual tiny moments in time — moments when someone or something makes everything feel okay,” she stated. “I want my critters to lead people to these moments and then to guide us back to our inner children. I want them to remind us to play, create, and imagine.”
Reviewing her storybook inspirations and her own unfettered imagination, Sarah Medina realized that she had found the best niche for her personality and circumstances. We all hope that more Jellybelly Bears will be bouncing and tumbling our way. “My bears have reminded me that we always can be an active part of our very own story, with our very own teddy bear friend.”