Stephanie Finnegan chats with up-and-coming artist Kerrie Mouat, of Best Dressed Bears, about hailing from “down under,” the upside of insomnia, and the highs and lows of being a creative personality.
Kerrie Mouat, the dynamic driving force behind Best Dressed Bears, is a people person. Even though she is surrounded by ursine companions ten and 15 hours per day, she comes alive when she is engaged with a customer, a fellow bruin enthusiast, an inquisitive magazine writer or just a person stopping by at her booth to say, “How are you?”
Because Mouat resides in Australia, a country in quite a different time zone from our own, her days and nights don’t coincide with those of us who live stateside. Australia is more than half-day ahead of us Americans, so it’s no exaggeration to suggest that Mouat lives in the future. As a matter of fact, that’s the perfect summation of who and what she is: a go-getter who is firmly planted in the here and now, but always with a keen eye steering her toward tomorrow.
This affable Aussie is a delight to know, and her childhood upbringing prepared her to be confident and comfortable with opening her hands to old and new friends alike.
“I grew up in the country, in a town called Shepparton,” Mouat shares. “We were a small family, with my mum and dad, and my older brother, Ian. Ian and I were both adopted when we were babies, and we grew up in a loving home environment. Mum and Dad always supported me in all endeavors of my life, and I must thank them for their love and encouragement. It has helped me in life immensely. In our later lives, after becoming parents ourselves, Ian and I curiously decided to seek out our natural families. We successfully found them several years ago, and we both now have extended families, plus the beautiful family relationship we had, and still have, growing up with each other and Mum. Sadly, my dad, Roy, passed away in 1993.”
Today, Mouat lives in Hillside, 25 minutes outside Melbourne, which is the capital city of Victoria, a state of Australia. Her hometown is very family oriented with lots of playgrounds and schools—an ideal suburban setting. The artist resides there with her husband, David, and their 12-year-old daughter, Ashlee. Luckily for the always active Mouat, her studio is home-based, because the urge to “make magic” strikes her at the most unlikely hours. “I create best late at night. I think that is because there are no distractions—no telephones ringing and you can’t clean the house late at night, or you’ll wake everyone up!”
Her workspace is located off the family’s lounge area, and there is a second room dedicated to all her craft supplies. “It’s very hard to create, and NOT take over the whole house.” When her daughter heads off to school, she tries to “commence her creating,” but Mouat admits she often finds herself working on several projects at once. These take on a will of their own, leading her to toil throughout the day, into the evening and then throughout the early-morning hours. She laughs when she is likened to a hamster or a gerbil—nocturnal creatures that come alive when the sun goes down and the moon rides high. Her comfort level is best when the rest of the world is fast asleep.
The energetic 41-year-old reserves little time for dozing. When she’s not building her bears and strategizing their elaborate costumes, she’s still constantly stretching and stirring. “Unwinding for me is creating. If I am getting a little tired of working on bears, I will go and paint, sew, garden, upholster furniture—you name it, I will do it. I think it might actually be an illness! I am unable to sit still.”
Mouat also takes a break by helping her daughter with her burgeoning jewelry business. “She’s only 12 but she sells jewelry to shops and attends teddy bear shows where she exhibits and sells her wares, too.”
The whole family, nuclear and extended, is involved with Mouat’s creations, and she admits she couldn’t do it without the support of her hubby, daughter, mother Lorraine and mother-in-law Glenda. They help her with her business dealings, her artistic inspiration and her focus on getting her name and her artwork out there.
The Mouats flew halfway around the world in 2006 to attend the Washington, D.C., Doll & Teddy Bear Expo. At the weekend event, the self-described “new kid on the block” made a huge splash with her very American depictions of Elvis and the Statue of Liberty. Was it difficult for a born-and-bred Australian to capture those iconic images?
“I generally study most of the characters I create; researching through the library and through the web. My aim is to make my creations look as authentic to the era or personality as possible. I really love the challenge of replicating costumes and accessories, and, yes, I do try to make bears that will appeal to different cultures and ways of life.”
Displaying her trademark down-under upbeat bravado, Mouat reveals, “I have always believed that whatever I want to do, I can do it. So, whatever challenge is put to me, I tackle it head on. That’s my policy in life and in creativity. Basically, the world is my oyster, and it is entirely up to me where my creativity levels will take me. So, stay tuned! As long as I am having fun along the way, then I am truly blessed.”
For the time being, the artist is having loads of laughs. She loves the opportunity to render cinematically inspired characters, personal commissions and tributes to historical figures that have seized her imagination. Her mind is always in overdrive, searching for her next big thing, and she’s not quite sure if the costume comes first or if she conjures up the bear persona initially.
“When I made ‘Anna the Ballerina,’ my thoughts were first to create a ballerina in a traditionally beaded tutu. I thoroughly investigated ballerina poses and traditional costumes,” Mouat says. “When I set about designing a pattern for Anna, I wanted her to be balanced on the tips of her paws. So, the challenge was how I would balance her. I used a timber base that I drilled a hole into. I then sawed a piece of timber pole to place in the hole, creating a basic timber stand. Next, I had to create ballet slippers to fit the bear’s paws. I thoroughly studied ballet slippers, which resulted in my making them from cardboard and covering them with satin, satin ribbons and a suede sole.”
Mouat’s machinations weren’t over yet: She had to figure out a way to affix the bear to the pole in a balanced way, plus partially finish the costume so it could be placed on the bear’s body before her permanent attachment. “When ‘Anna’ was in position, I then set about hand-dying the guipure lace to match her tutu nets. I then intricately hand-beaded her bodice and headpiece. Hours and hours and hours of work went into creating this bear and her costume.”
Being versatile and innovative is second nature to Mouat, who has had prior success as a designer for bridal fashions and children’s clothing. She has also refurbished rooms at a children’s play center, where she “sawed holes in walls, painted murals and created 3-D characters.” Riding high from that achievement, she began to make calico dolls and then pursued a request, in September 2003, to make costumed bears.
“Within a day of being put in the store window, my bears sold, so bears are now my thing, and I do love creating them,” Mouat shares. “I think I may probably end up creating other furry critters, but at this stage, I am content with the bears. I never in my wildest dreams thought my career would involve teddy bears, so who knows what the future holds? The best part of creating bears is in seeing the reactions on people’s faces to my creations and the smiles they bring. I am very blessed to have been given the ability to create and hopefully bring a little joy to someone’s world.”
No matter what part of the world they may travel to, these Best Dressed Bears regally and eloquently live up to their name.