Photos courtesy of The Tuscany Bear Maker
The global extravaganza called the Olympics is about to come to an end. This weekend, August 21, will be the last chance for worldwide TV viewers to share moments of exhilaration, pride, sorrow, joy, shock and awe, and, of course, deep admiration for folks who have given up large blocks of their life to chase a dream.
What’s interesting about that last observation is that it can so richly apply to bear makers as well. When a person sits down and decides to craft their first bear — followed by a second and a third — there is no guarantee of sales or success. Bear artists begin to try their hand at fashioning cubs and pups, and other adorable critters, because they have a burning desire to do so. The same way that a very young swimmer has no idea that her first foray into a wading pool will end up with her standing on the Olympic gold-metal platform — the same can be said for the men and women who create the teddy bears and friends that we love.
Keeping our Olympic global mood afloat, we are pulling out our Plush Passports and getting them stamped for Tuscany, Italy. I’ve been to Italy, but never to that region. I know that it is often the setting for lavish epics and stirring romance movies — actress Diane Lane had her career majorly rejuvenated with 2003’s “Under the Tuscan Sun” film — and it holds an allure for folks who dream about jetting away and getting some much-needed “me” time.
How lucky for all of us bear fanciers, then, that we are getting to spend some “mohair” time with an artist who calls herself “The Tuscany Bear Maker.” I had the great good fortune to chat with Annalisa Taddei and found her story to be inspirational and motivational.
“I have always had an artistic streak,” Taddei told me. “I guess you could say I have an artistic soul. Before I made bears, I made a lot of candles and fairy lumbers. My studio was like a fairy laboratory! Because I live on the coast, I would walk along the beach or on the cliffs and I would find special things for my creations. I would always have the best sea wood!”
During one of her post–beach strolls, Taddei was settling down in front of her computer, surfing the Internet for some polymer-clay deals, when she stumbled upon the world of teddy bear artists for the first time. It was akin to Dorothy landing in Oz, Alice falling down the rabbit hole, or any time traveler crash-landing in a past or future century. “It grabbed me right away,” Taddei recalled. “I was looking for materials for my gnomes and I discovered the teddy bears! Here in Italy, the world of teddy bear artists did not exist. This was amazing to me!”
Seeing what was possible, and always having that urge to create and to design, Taddei gave herself a new goal. She would make a bear of her own: “This all happened about 8½ or 9 years ago. I was really stunned in knowing this marvelous new world. I did not believe my eyes. I knew right away that this was a wonderful world and I wanted to be a part of it. I felt sorry and sad that I hadn’t caught it before.”
Beginning to make her teddy bears, Taddei felt a connection with her new artistic path. She knew she was on the right journey — sort of like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road, right? “The teddy bear world was like a dreamy world, and I didn’t know anything about it. Now I do know a little bit about it, and I realize I still have a lot to learn and know! Making the bears and the dogs have become a real pleasure for me.”
Her teddy bear collectors and colleagues agree that she has a style and a panache all her own. Her works have garnered many awards in international competitions, including the URSA and the TOBY. She has gained a lot of confidence and a lot of trophies in the bear industry. “I take part in international contests, and I have to tell you that I almost always have won a prize. I don’t mean to boast. It is just a fact,” Taddei stated to me. “I have entered competitions in South Africa, Australia, Taiwan, Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, and the United States. It is an honor to win in different categories. It makes me happy and proud.”
In addition to her work with fairies, gnomes, and teddy bears, Taddei had worked for the local Boarding Office since 1985. She also raised a family of three daughters, along with her helpful husband. Her life has always been a busy and challenging one: “I have not always had the time I would like to devote to my bears and my artistry. You see how busy my life can be. When I do make my bears, I see them as my babies. I LOVE babies, and I consider all my characters to be my babies. I think they need my attention. They need their mommy — who is me!”
Taddei likens her mohair creations to an internal mirror. It is a way to see what is happening inside her: “They express the various expressions of my soul. And when collectors like them, it is because they express their souls too.”
After her exposure to the world of teddy bears, the artist evolved into a collector too. She gravitated to the creations of Chiltern, Steiff, and Chad Valley. She responded to their vintage looks. Because she has experience on both sides of the collectible coin — creator and collector — Taddei has insight into why her bears attract such deep devotion. “I think collectors fall in love with my creations. Every time I sit down to create one, I wait for the mohair to speak to me about who the guy is. Sometimes I have an idea — it’s a wish I want to follow — but the final creation depends more on the process than the idea. I know I am close to finishing and doing what I wanted when I see the sweetness of the eyes. I am happy when I see the finished eyes, and I think the collectors look and react to that, too!” she mused.
Annalisa Taddei compares the cutting of the fur for her bears to “sensing a little fellow who is about to be born.” And like all good mothers, she realizes that her job in life is to raise up a child who is able to leave home. “The first bear I made to try to put up on eBay was named ‘Pucky.’ This was in May 2007. He was bought and now lives in the United States. I know the bears are meant to be collected, and I am proud that I can make things that collectors want,” she asserted to me. “It is exciting to sit and see how much my work has grown. And to see how near or how far it goes from what I first wanted to do. I am always creating and I am always trying.”