Remaining photos courtesy of LuLu Tatum
Back in the Swinging Sixties, there was a very famous pop singer named Lulu. Born in Scotland, she became emblematic of everything British and bubbly, modern and mini-skirted. For folks in the United States, she is forever enshrined as the crooner of “To Sir, with Love,” a motion picture theme song that has never gone out of style. No matter the tumultuous decade or the state of the union, this tune always resonates with the public, and can even move grown men to tears.
So, being a sucker for that throwback single (I especially like the line “The time has come for closing books, and long last looks must end”), I am predisposed to like anything associated with Lulu. Even if it just happens to be your first name, and it’s spelled slightly differently!
For artist LuLu Tatum, it’s not just her name that is reminiscent of the 1960s songbird. Like the UK actress/singer, LuLu Tatum is also blessed with an ability to take an emotion and wring it for all it is worth. Her bears and other critters are handmade with an amazing amount of drama and theatricality. It is not accidental that her animals’ faces are etched with feelings and attitude: “All of my bears and buddies are made with sculpted leather, mohair, old fur coats, and other antique or vintage furry materials and textiles. I started to make my bears with sculpted faces because I wanted them to have expressions. I wanted them to show what they could be feeling. I wanted them to connect with collectors that way.”
LuLu’s lineup of critters has been connecting with devotees for decades now. She has been a professional artist since the late 1980s and one of her yearly pledges is to remain forever relevant. (Again, another similarity with the singing Lulu, who has always had to re-invent herself artistically.) According to bear artist LuLu, “I don’t want my work to be seen as ‘always the same.’ Even though things might be similar, they are never the same.”
When she considers what she will be conjuring forth in her studio — a potential for a bear, a bunny, an elf, or even a doll — she has one philosophy that she pursues: “I want to make the absolute most beautiful new pieces ever. For both bears and dolls, my total goal for both is to keep working as hard as possible to perfect each creation. I’ve been making both kinds of creations since the 1980s, and I still learn something with each and every one I make!”
Her compelling characters — the nuanced human ones and the nearly-human ones — have that enviable ability to grab a person and maintain their grip on the individual’s heart, mind, and soul. Her bears and buddies get under a person’s skin.
Among her collectors are celebrities and well-known politicians, folks who reside all over the globe. Her pieces speak the universal language of connecting with the collector’s emotional state.
“I love diversity. I love to achieve that with my dolls and with my bears. I want each one to be its own creation. But no matter what style I choose for them, I know my LuLu’s Bears are always recognizable. Their sculpted faces can convey so many different emotions, and that is something I am so proud to have associated with me,” the artist has shared.
When probed to describe her large variety of artistic offerings — and the woman is exceptionally prolific — LuLu Tatum has a wide path to traverse. It is hard for her to wrangle just one word or one expression when describing her accomplishments.
“I’m diverse with my artwork. I like to try my hand at all different techniques. I do painting. I do sculpting. I do sewing. I have worked in several different mediums, including painting, watercolors, and oil on canvas. I’m not afraid to try something for the first time creatively. I do challenge myself,” she mused. “I will give something unknown a whirl.”
In my book, LuLu Tatum is one brave, expressive artist. By never restricting herself, she has taken her collectors “from crayons to perfume,” which just happens to be another lyric from “To Sir, with Love.”