Photos courtesy of Bare Cub Designs
Going to a Broadway show is always a treat, but it was extra special when we set out to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a gift from a very kind friend, as our summer family excursion. In the theater, there is a saying that a performer is a triple threat — can sing, can dance, can act — well, this was a triple treat: it was a complimentary gift; it was delightful; it was all about sweets!
Yes, the stage version of the famous Willy Wonka movie musical is chock-full of chocolate, peppermints, cotton candy, and all other manner of tooth-decaying, cavity-promoting delicacies. It was an oasis for folks like me who on any given Sunday would rather dive headfirst into a big, overflowing sundae rather than a nutritious turkey dinner!
A love for all things sugary and caloric is also the basis for Helen Gleeson’s ursine creations. When I left the theater after being immersed in the macabre world of Oompa Loompas and horribly behaved children (on the stage, the audience kids were good as gold), I thought of Gleeson’s bears that were always paired with make-believe edible treats.
Working under the banner of Bare Cub Designs, the Australian artist whips up teddy bears that are indeed bare. They don’t wear clothing, but rather their hair speaks volumes about what they are representing and what gooey goody-bag treat they are reflecting.
“I love the creativity that resides within all of us,” Gleeson told me in a heartfelt cyber chat. “I love that I possess the ability to create beauty. I also love that we can all share our thoughts and creations online. We can grow together as a group of artists.”
Besides being a first-rate, award-winning creator, Gleeson also derives a lot of pleasure from being a teacher and a mentor to aspiring bear makers. She offers tutorials and instructions for completing bear projects and patterns. “I think the Internet has changed the way we all communicate. I can now reach out to customers and to students all over the world. That is an incredible accomplishment!” she raved. “The Internet has changed the way bears are viewed as well. All of us Australian bear artists have expanded our horizons beyond the Australia bear market. We have all set new heights to compete with the whole world’s artist bear market. The world has been opened up to us.”
Folks from all over the globe have responded favorably to Gleeson’s concoctions. Like the extremely demanding Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” as soon as we see one of her little guys or gals, we want to stamp and stomp our feet and yell loudly, “I want one! I want one NOW! I want it all!” Her creations are THAT adorable. You want to grab them by the handful.
One of the reasons why her cubs are so appetizing is that they are paired with some of Gleeson’s favorite snacks and candy choices. “I admit I love sweets! I have an absolute sweet tooth. I love creating cubs that are inspired by cupcake and sweet treats. My creations are known as ‘confection collections,’ and my collectors have really responded to them,” Gleeson shared with me.
Like the world’s best chefs and most famous chocolatiers, Gleeson has a vision for her cuddly recipes, and its ingredients are indeed “pure imagination,” with a brief nod to the Willy Wonka musical score. “My signature style has become 5- to 6-inch mink cubs created from neutral tones, like vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, along with soft pastel hues, like strawberry, peach, lemon, and lime. I start with a ball of fluff, and after hours of trimming later, I have a face!” she exalted. “After my work, I have a round, fluffy, beautiful, and charming face.”
Gleeson’s attention to detail doesn’t end with the cute faces and the tasty, delicious, wide-open personality. Gleeson spends a great deal of time perfecting the bears’ bodies, too. “All of these cubs are five-way, disc-jointed, and they are fully lined for strength,” she outlined. “They have Ultrasuede paws and are gently filled with Merino wool and polyblend fill and a little steel shot for weight.”
The majority of her cubs come from recycled mink coats, which she sources from the United Kingdom and the United States. “While I have made a fluffy gray-and-white koala bear, that was some time ago. My style does not reflect my country. It reflects my imagination, and reflects the interests of my collectors. These are not national bears!”
Helen Gleeson has a great deal of respect for her bear peers who are able to mirror nature and wildlife with their handiwork. That kind of photorealism is not her forte: “My collections are soft and cute. They are not realistic at all. For me, my little sweet cubs are the softer side of my life. They are an escape from the corporate world.”
If Gleeson had to boil down her mission into one succinct sentence, it would be: “I want to make cubs that make people smile.” With their dessert-rich names and candy-store accessories, her bare cubs certainly do reach out and tempt the sweet tooth in all of us.