Photos Courtesy of Karen Alderson
An eagerly anticipated teddy bear should make you dance to the front door or mailbox. Knowing that it is soon arriving on your doorstep should indeed lift your spirits and your heart. There should be a lively spring in your step. Neither a prima ballerina nor a blushing, radiant bride should have anything on you for sheer excitement and ebullience. (Okay, I admit I might be a bit hyperbolic here, but I do have an actual point. An artist bear should be a well-thought-out purchase that heralds emotional/spiritual rejoicing. Its acquisition should equal a grasping at happiness. I really do believe that. I do! I do!)
Australian teddy bear artist Karen Alderson certainly knew a thing or two about making her collectors float upon air. When I had the chance to chat with her a dozen or so months ago, I was impressed with her bears’ theatricality and sentimentality. With their lovely costuming and precious poses, Alderson’s critters blend a dramatic flair with a nostalgic bygone era.
“I think when I make a bear or animal, it all boils down to making something that maybe will bring a smile to someone’s face. Even if they don’t buy it — they just saw it — I created something that brought a moment of beauty to their day,” she revealed. “I like to be sure they are all made as perfectly as I can, especially when most sales are through the Internet. I want collectors to be happy when they open the package and unwrap their new treasure. It’s such a leap of trust when a customer sends off money to someone, often halfway around the world. Just think — it’s based on a photo someone has seen on a screen. I am so glad that people have always trusted me. As a bear artist, I have always hoped to live up to that trust or to exceed it.”
Alderson had launched her career as a bear maker back in the early 1990s. When I interviewed her, she was 20+ years into her artistry. Residing outside Melbourne, she was more influenced by her own imagination than her homeland’s terrain or culture.
“I’d say my work is as far from what you’d think of Australia as you can possibly get! Australia usually conjures up images of wild bushland, red deserts, sun, and beaches. My bears and critters have a more pastel or ‘girly’ look to them,” she explained. “Even when I designed some native animals recently, they had ribbons around their necks and long eyelashes!”
At the time of our conversation, Alderson had mentioned to her mother that she was considering creating a koala bear. “I mentioned to my mum that I thought it would be cute to have a small gumnut to go with the gum leaves. You know it as eucalyptus leaves! Well, Mum happened to mention it in passing to some friends, and before I knew it, I had gumnuts galore, in all sizes, to choose from!” the Aussie artist chuckled. “Believe me, it was nice to have so much interest and support.”
Many of Alderson’s countrymen and women are not collectors, but they are intrigued by what she has fashioned with her own hands and vision: “I think here in Australia we teddy bear artists are probably a lot more accepted than in some other countries. Much of the time, people are surprised that adults collect and are willing to pay so much. However, when you explain to them what you do, and show them the photos, they are fascinated. It makes sense to them then.”
Having been immersed in the bear industry for more than 20 years, Alderson had accrued many precious moments and connections. “Making bears has given me some wonderful memories. Meeting other artists and collectors at shows all over the place, traveling with friends to bear shows in foreign countries — these are all experiences that I shall never forget,” Alderson admitted. “I have learned that bear people are so friendly, even when you speak a completely different language.”
Taking a guided tour down memory lane, Karen Alderson reviewed what she enjoyed most about her plush passion. “I feel my favorite part has always been bringing the ideas to life. I loved having an idea and figuring out the mechanics, pattern, sizes, and accessories,” she detailed. “Of course, the ideas don’t always come out just the way you had been planning. Sometimes you try again. Sometimes you resign yourself that maybe that idea is destined to stay just that — an idea — forever.”
Always an optimist, Karen Alderson didn’t let that negative roadblock stand in her conversational path. She quickly added, “Or you put the idea aside and give yourself time in the future. There are many ideas and bears still waiting to be made!”