Photos courtesy of Olga Zharkova
One of my greatest joys in life is being a parent — to my two human children (four legs total) and to my one cat (four legs total, too)! What’s fascinating these days is how effortlessly people admit to being a “pet parent” or to raising a “furry baby.” Honestly, such declarations would have raised eyebrows and hackles just a mere 20 years ago.
Today, we’ve all embraced our cats, dogs, birds, and iguanas (though be careful when hugging a lizard, they’ve been known to bite) like never before. So, with the understanding that our pets … um, I mean animal companions … are actually family members, it gives soft-sculpture artists a lot to contemplate. Do they create critters that look like cast members from “Wild Kingdom” — naturalistic and nude — or do they deck their creatures out in human costuming with cute, practical, or heroic accessories? Are our preferred soft-sculpture bears more Beau Brummell (pants and waistcoat) than Baloo (living large and in charge in “The Jungle Book”)?
The decision is as diverse as the men and women who are fashioning our sought-after collectibles. Among those talented folks who decide to dress their bears, bunnies, cats, and other four-legged denizens in bespoke outfits, Russian artist Olga Zharkova is one of the most dramatic and prolific. Equally adept at creating a “naked” bear as a fully garbed one, Zharkova chatted with me about her love affair with making art and making evocative scenes.
“All of my work — from the patterns, the clothes, the various accessories — are made by hand,” she revealed. “It is one of the most important parts of my life, thinking of a subject and then doing my art.”
According to Zharkova, the pursuit of art is more than her profession. It gives her a “reason for being.” She stressed the value of her creativity in her life: “My pastime — my leisuretime — it is all about art. Everything is linked to creativity. We do drawing, embroidery, tapestries, oil-on-wood painting, knitting, and the making of soft toys. It brings us such joy.”
Zharkova’s whole family — her husband and her grown children — shares her passion for utilizing their minds and hands in tandem to concoct unexpected and surprising achievements. “When I make my bears and other animals, I put my heart and my spirit into them. I talk with them a lot, and I think they talk through me, too,” she shared.
Since 2009, Zharkova has been coaxing forth this array of memorable characters. She makes sure each one has a distinct personality that is revealed in her exacting costuming and the accessories that accompany the creations.
“I appreciate every customer that chooses my bear, and I am honored that he chose to select my creation. There are so many authors out there, and my work was purchased. It is an honor,” she wrote.
What fascinated me about our correspondence was the fact that Zharkova frequently referred to herself as an author and also credited her other ursine colleagues with that same term: “There are so many great authors out there, and they all make bears that have their own characters and communicate what they want to share with collectors. Artists are unusual people and their work shows what makes them unique!”
I loved the fact that Olga Zharkova described herself as a bear author. Her creations seem to be steeped in a dramatic storyline. Each one doesn’t just appear to be clad in an outfit or wearing a simple frock or suit. They seem to be wholly formed characters that have exploded from the pages of a screenplay or an epic novel.
Truly, the bears, bunnies, cats, and foxes that emerge from Zharkova’s massive imagination are examples of literary and cinematic influence. I’d really enjoy the chance to watch any of her offerings co-starring together in a miniseries or commanding the big screen. Heck, her soft-sculpture artistry makes me proud to be a pet parent. After all, aren’t we always wishing for the stars for our kids? Why not, then, hope for adventures for our four-legged kiddies as well!