Photos Courtesy of Mireille Begijn
Well, it’s certainly been a fascinating run of weather this past week. The temperatures have climbed into the high 80s, only to plummet to the low 50s. In the space of seven days, I’ve worn shorts, flannel pajamas, a winter coat, a raincoat, and a short-sleeved spring dress. To say it’s unpredictable would be an understatement. Perhaps that’s why I like blogging for The Plush Life so much. While meteorological mayhem impacts my wardrobe choices and drives me crazy, the world of teddy bears is placid, peaceful, and always smooth sailing.
A bear artist whose work is so suitable for lowering blood pressure while uplifting moods is Belgium’s Mireille Begijn. About two years ago, I had the chance to interview her for TEDDY BEAR & FRIENDS magazine, and due to space restrictions, many of her photos and her positive attitude didn’t make it into the final cut. Here’s a chance to showcase all of the lovely images she sent my way!
Diagnosed as an infant with a form of muscular dystrophy, Mireille could have grown up with a sense of bitterness and anger. She could have been consumed by resentment and sorrow. Instead, her parents raised her to embrace a positive and indefatigable work ethic. “My parents raised me and my brother the same. They exposed us to all that life had to offer,” she shared. “Because I am in a wheelchair, and mainly at home, I was constantly looking for something to move my senses. The most important reason why I make bears is to resist the state of my health.”
Mireille has always found solace and enjoyment in the realm of make-believe. From her earliest memories, she was besotted by the magic of Walt Disney and his many animated films. “As a child, I was inspired by his films and by fairy-tale figures, like elves, gnomes, witches, and many fantasy creatures,” she recalled. “I remember when I was about 5 to 6 years old, I’d cut out photos from TV magazines of ladies dressed in haute couture clothing and historical costumes. I was drawn to Marie Antoinette and the Empress Sissi. For me, this was always fascinating as a little girl. From childhood, I have always been busy crafting and creating things.”
True to her nature and her penchant for pretending, Mireille named her bear business Bearytale Teddies. She started making bears about a decade ago, roughly in 2006. Over the time, she has discovered a style and a motif of her own: “I describe my bears as magical or enchanting. They are like a fairy tale to me. Thinking about it, I probably run away in this style to forget my health problems and make me feel better. Being busy and creative are truly the best medicine there is!”
When Mireille receives an e-mail complimenting her work, she takes the kind words to heart. She is so proud when her creations are able to touch a collector. “My work is sometimes interpreted as cheerful by some people, but it also can radiate ‘triestesse,’ or a melancholy feeling. This is what I want to convey to people,” she confided. “I want to provide a smile and a tear, just like life.”
Due to her physical limitations, Mireille’s travel plans are more “wish lists” rather than concrete itineraries. “The dream to visit shows in such places as America, Australia, Germany, and London, England, are presently excluded. Fortunately, I can watch through Facebook or see other pictures of the shows on different sites,” she said.
The Internet has become a great conduit for conversation, and Etsy has become a venue for her to sell her bear wares. She has developed relationships with colleagues and collectors from all over the globe. “The connection that people can have with this hobby is huge. There are already many friendships that would otherwise never have been,” she observed. “What I love about the bear world is that each bear maker or collector has the same mission — to find or to create the most beautiful bear on earth. The endless talk about a bear can lead to very special discussions.”
Prior to trying her own hands at bear artistry, Mireille was a collector. She acquired a lot of Steiff bears and other critters. However, she “often felt unconnected with the bears” because she was searching “for bears that did not exist. That was one of the reasons why I started making bears myself. I wanted to make the bears that I saw in my own eyes.”
Mireille takes a very objective attitude about how her bears are perceived: “I know my bears have a special style and not everyone loves them. Sometimes that realization hurts, but when you make bears out of the box, then it becomes difficult to please everyone. I learned over the years to respect every style of bears because each bear maker creates his or her bear with the greatest love and conviction.”
This artist’s conviction is to make pieces that bring happiness to her worldwide fan base. “I try to make collectors smile, to put a smile on their face, and to give the best of myself,” she explained. “A collector wants to collect bears that appeal to her emotions in some degree or another. I want the collectors to love my little wonders, and I hope I can thrill them.”
Having spent more than 10 years surrounded by bears, Mireille Begijn has definite ideas about what she wants to achieve. “Emotion, poignancy, perfection, and goose bumps are what I still aspire to convey. I try to make every bear, right down to the smallest detail, into a work of art. After all these years, I still make my bears for myself,” she admitted.
“I believe in letting my creativity run wild and staying true to myself. Even if your work is not traditional, keep believing in it,” she stressed. “When you have a dream, continue to believe in it, pursue it, and never give up!”