While my thoughts are still in a “Rule Britannia” princely state of mind—or would that be commonwealth of mind—I thought I’d write this week about a very talented English bear artist named Gill Cattroll. I was fortunate to interview her for an upcoming issue of Teddy Bear & Friends magazine—the September issue, I believe—and she has so many fantastic creations that they can’t be contained in one single article!
With everyone’s attention still reeling from the May 19 Royal Wedding Spectacular, it’s nice to chat with someone who is down-to-earth and comfortable with her gifts. Gill Cattroll is an individual who is blessed with creativity and, more than that, ingenuity. How she dreamed up BowerBird Bears is a testament to her dedication to challenging herself and always learning new tricks! It’s also a salute to her personal devotion to Mother Earth and its always shifting imbalances.
While working for a custom-made furniture company back in 2011, Gill was asked to throw away a fabric-sample book. The idea of just junking something that might still have some value troubled her greatly, so she decided to use the upholstery for a little side project. The birth of the bears had begun!
As an interior designer, Gill has a natural sense of style and flair, color-combination options and textural preferences. What Gill had to learn was how to put that inherent taste to work in the land of bears, bunnies, and raccoons. Through trial and error, plus studying with bear artists who became personal mentors to her, Gill developed a flair for her new passion.
“The list of those who have provided guidance and support to me over the years is long, but it would be remiss of me not to give a shout-out to Rita Harwood from Woodland Teddies, Lainy Musgrove from Heirloom Bears, Laney of Arctophilia Bears, and Liz Walker Watts of Wacky Walker Bears on the crafting side, as well as Graeme Miles Forbes, lately of Apple Pie House, Debbie Woodhouse of Teddy Bear and Doll Fairs, and Hilary Pauley for their encouragement from the ‘business’ side of things,” she shared with me.
Wanting to give credit where it is due is an essential part of Cattroll’s psyche. She explained to me how indebted she is to her husband, Iain, who has grown to play a crucial role in the BowerBird Bears success. “He is chauffeur and showman to the bears at events. His show attire is verging on legendary, and instantly recognizable, too,” she happily confided. “He is responsible for ensuring the bears’ bowties are properly fitted and researching the insignia for the military bears. He is an integral member of the team.”
Born in Gosport Hampshire, England, Gill and her family moved around the United Kingdom quite a bit because her father was active in the Royal Navy. Her admiration and respect for her dad has carried through to today, and the many military bears that she makes are connected to her personal pride as a daughter and as a patriot.
These days, she and her family reside in a small, rural village in Wales. She often relies on her neighbors and local craftspeople for the raw materials that help to create one of her bears. This goes well with her Earth-First directives, and she is committed to conjuring up bears that reflect her environmental beliefs.
In the bear world, she has met many like-minded artists, collectors, and peers. With a concern for the world at large, Gill responds when she meets individuals who also want to make a difference, and who start by buying one of her locally sourced creations.
“I love communicating with my collectors and followers online, but I hate to be intrusive. I, therefore, let them instigate any conversation. BowerBird Bears has followers predominantly in the UK, but with a smaller following in Europe, the United States, and Canada,” she admitted.
Currently, Gill has traveled the bear-fair circuit from Wales to England to Scotland, and she has high hopes to broaden her travel horizons: “One day, I would love to take up the invitations I have received to attend shows in France and Germany, but it is not feasible just at the moment.” She loves to be at conventions and exhibitions not only to showcase her own designs, but also to collect the work of other ursine artists.
“Making bears, meeting other artists, and attending fairs have opened my eyes to the variety of styles and talent out there. I have a relatively small ‘hug’ of animals that have caught my eye,” Gill stated. “I have a fondness for the quirky, and have a number of Art Rogers’s Chatham Village animals, some Thingumy & Co creatures from Bry Richardson, an R. John Wright ‘Benjamin,’ and a couple of classic Merrythought ‘Cheeky’ Bears. One day I hope to add a Kelly Dean realistic bear to the clutch, as I really admire his work.”
That empathy is what makes Gill Cattroll’s work so relatable—just like the collectors who value and accumulate her pieces, she, likewise, understands what it feels like to be an eager collector, a devoted fan, and an artist’s admirer. She lets that “everywoman” connection underscore her designs and her attitude. BowerBird Bears and their talented creator are a rare bird indeed!