Russian-born Elina Oplakanska has always loved nature, especially animals, and bears in particular. Though she began to create her one-of-a-kind (OOAK) vintage-style bears only three years ago, she has been drawing little bears since she was quite young. The bear has long been used as a symbol in Russia. Perhaps it was this influence which prompted Oplakanska’s sketches and which eventually led her to create her first little bear from plastic. “Sometimes people think that animals are very primitive,” Oplakanska said, “but I think the world is much more complicated. I try to express this relationship through my bears.”
Indeed, there is nothing primitive in the character-filled faces of the artist’s little bears. Oplakanska’s first bear was a sweet young cub, much like the ones she had been sketching all her life. “He was a little funny,” she said, “and very small. I used it for a toy for the next bear I made. I had always liked old bears and had a dream about one and wanted to create him. He was lovely and made of old fabric. I could never part with him, so he has stayed with me. He evokes wonderful memories.
Oplakanska goes to great lengths to make her bears appear as though they have been around for many years and have been well-loved. She often uses a process known as distressing to artificially age the fabrics used for both a bear and its clothing. “I use old fabrics and some special fabrics for my bears,” the artist said, “and then I make it look shabby. It is a shabby style. I love antique and vintage things, and so I make my bears vintage, too. Because old things have a very interesting story. Sometimes I can find special materials online, and often people send old items of clothing that are perfect for this shabby look.” The artist uses natural fabrics to make her bears’ clothing, usually velveteen, silk, and cotton.
All of Oplakanska’s works are handmade and each is a OOAK. “It is sometimes a little difficult, because my bears are very small,” she said. “ Inside their bodies are wood sawdust because sawdust is a natural material, and I think this material is very good. It was used long ago for making old bears. They are filled with sawdust, but I know they have hearts. All my bears are OOAK, and I make them all myself. It is, for me, very important as I give all my love and feeling when I make my bears. It is like magic. You take fabric and sawdust in your hand, and as a result there appears a little bear with all the character a person can have.”
The daughter of Russian doll artist Helena Oplakanska, Elina is also talented photographer, artist, and architect. “Photography is very important to me,” she said. “I tell a story and set the mood with my photographs. I make photographs for my bears and my mother’s dolls. Photography is a very interesting process and gives me many ideas. I make many stories, still lifes, and nature macro photos. It gives me inspiration. One day I would like to do some fairy tales about mother’s dolls and my bears with photographs. It would be like an animated movie. I’d like to make my own personal show or exhibition with dolls and bears. It should be many photos with stories. I hope that someday I can make a book about my bears with sketches, illustrations, photographs, and some stories. It is my dream.”
The rise in popularity of Oplakanska’s bears has been nothing short of meteoric. In three short years, her bears have become recognized both as collectibles and as works of art. In 2013, she attended both the International Dolls and Teddy Bears Exhibition in Kiev, Ukraine, in October and in the IV Moscow International Exhibition “Art Dolls” in December. “Now my bears live in many countries,” she said. “It is a new world for me. It is like a fairy tale.”
It would be difficult to hold one of Oplakanska’s bears in your hands, look into those little eyes and humble smiles, and not be totally smitten by its shy gaze. “I give every one a little story,” said Oplakanska, “and a part of my heart. Sometimes the bears will have a small key on them. It is a key from the heart. When you have one of these bears, he gives to you this little piece of his heart. It is very touching. There is something very sweet and romantic about them — and also a little melancholy. They have a soul. It is very important for me to know that my bears bring coziness and comfort to their humans. It is their reason for being.”
Find out more at www.elina-niceart.com