Photos courtesy of Katie Rae Bears
There’s an old but true saying, “The two happiest days for a boat owner are the day he buys his boat and the day he unloads it.” I’ve never owned a boat — finances and drowning phobia have prevented that purchase — but I do love going out on the ocean with a capable sailor. I’ve always lived by the sea — not in a beachfront cottage or an oceanfront duplex — but within a short car ride or subway ride. For some reason, being situated by an expansive body of water grounds me. Ironic, isn’t it?
Now, the reason why the boat quote is so humorous to me is that it spells out how so many of us approach our collections. We yearn to have the items, drool and save for the purchases, and then eventually decry the lack of room and increase of clutter. We drown in our own desires.
Buying a piece for a collection should equal discovering a treasure that your heart and soul both clamor for and crave. It should be a commitment to keep those objects afloat, and not let them crash and burn on our disinterest and disregard.
An artist who truly understands the art of making a collectible and the art of overseeing a collection is Katherine Hallam, a.k.a. Katie Rae. The British bear maker is an award-winning artist, as well as a tireless collector herself. One of the reasons why she has enjoyed such success is that she gets where her fan base is coming from. When I had the chance to chat with her, she unapologetically admitted, “I am a collector. I know what I love and I know what I want. I buy the things that appeal to me, and there are lots of those!”
Since childhood, Katie Rae (Katie is what her dad called her; Rae is her middle name) has been amassing treasures to tuck away and proudly display: “Really, if I didn’t occasionally hold myself back, I’d need to have two houses — one to live in with my family, and the other for my collections. I’ve collected clowns, Lilliput Houses, dolls, bears, and dollhouses. As an adult, I developed a particular love of Japanese toys — from Blythe dolls to the simple miniature children’s toys made by Re-Ment. I just love the look and feel of them. It’s that simple.”
Flourishing as a bear artist, Katie Rae has always had a penchant for being a creative soul. In addition to coaxing all kinds of ursine cuties into the world, she has had a long, enduring career as a singer. “For way over 25 years, I’ve been a singer. I would do my performing on the weekends, and any time that I could find in between gigs would be for the bears. I would often have a bear’s head in progress in the dressing room in between shows,” she revealed. “Truthfully, I wish I could even make them in my sleep!”
The bears that Katie Rae does dream up are unique for their wide-eyed, quirky, open faces that boast “diamond” accents and accessories. “My signature mark is the crystal in the bears’ noses. It’s what I am known for by many people. I think everyone has their own reason for wanting to buy a bear or for wanting to buy MY bear in particular,” she mused. “I believe people fall in love with bears. Bears have an ‘oooh’ factor that no other collectible seems to capture. I hope my bears fall into that category.”
True to her performing instincts, Katie Rae loves meeting her collectors, attending a convention, and getting the chance to shake hands and exchange ideas, thoughts, and genial conversation. When we spoke, she was very happy to have made a tour of the United States, meeting and greeting the folks who buy her bears: “I love the American collectors. I am always made to feel very welcome by them, and I have always had a wonderful time at the shows! I love going to the conventions because I get to meet the collectors and I get to see the works of other artists in person. There is so much personality and creativity in the bear world, and I love looking at another artist’s work. I love to study it and think, ‘How on earth did that person do that?!!’ It is always thrilling to see what bear artists can conceive.”
When Katie Rae settles down to begin a bear, she often has no idea where her hands and imagination will end up leading her. “I have an outline idea — the size and shape — but the bear is really ‘born’ in my hand. I’m often surprised at what I create. It just happens,” she confided. “Many of my bears may begin one way, but sometimes as I work on them, they start to change. I might have an idea, but an idea is not set in stone! It gives me plenty of wiggle room.”
Working on her bears and spreading joy and happiness are the philosophies that drive Katie Rae. She is dedicated to making the world a brighter place, one bear at a time: “If I had to describe my bears — and it’s hard for an artist to do that — I’d say they are full of character and are unique. I want them to be seen as fun and guaranteed to make you smile. When I am at a show, and I physically see a collector fall in love with one of my bears, I then think to myself how that makes it all worthwhile. That’s what I am creating for.”
Whether it’s singing on a stage or sewing in a dressing room, Katherine Hallam is consumed with her need to communicate and to share her inner being. The ursine environment has given her the ability to reach out and make a difference in the lives of her collectors. As Katie Rae, she has made friends around the world. She wishes she could keep doing this forever.
“The worst part of being an artist is not being able to make enough bears,” she stated. “There never seems to be enough hours to make all the bears that are running around in my head. I firmly believe that teddy bears are for everyone! It doesn’t matter if you are old or young, male or female, we can all relate to teddy bears. That is definitely why they have endured for more than a century! People love them and still want to collect them!”
Sail on, Katie Rae, sail on!