Photos courtesy of Karin Jehle
Do you enjoy getting overseas postcards or friendly notes from acquaintances that you’re just thinking about? Isn’t it great when you are remembering a conversation, or recollecting a moment, and then you receive a letter from that very person? (Though nowadays, it is more likely to be an e-mail or even a tweet!)
I love to hear from teddy bear artists based in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, and right here in the States! I openly encourage creative folks to drop me a line and send me updates of what you’re up to in your studios! After all, your collectors and your admirers can’t wait to see what you are conjuring up. Case in point: a terrific note I received a while ago from Karin Jehle, of Stuttgart, Germany.
The creator of Lovable Fellows (that’s the name of her brand) has been designing bears and all other critters for more than 20 years. It all started—professionally—in the mid-1990s. Jehle wrote to me about her “ursine” epiphany: “My passion for bears began in the year 1994 when I passed a shop on my way to work and saw several teddy bears looking at me from the window. It was love at first sight. In the shop they were holding a bear maker course, which I attended. I was fascinated by my first self-made bear and was affected by the so-called ‘bear virus’ from that very moment. Soon I began designing my own bears and called them ‘Lovable Fellows.’”
Jehle’s creations live up to their branding. They certainly are lovable and downright huggable. Collectors aren’t shy about writing or messaging the artist about how much they adore her characters. They are smitten with her Teddies, puppies, and occasional camels and llamas! “Many of my collectors have said that my bears have a big personality and a soul. That is the reason why they love my bears. They also appreciate the great variety of styles that I make, each bear and each animal looks different. It’s a great compliment for me when they collect more than one of my bears and when they say that they are very happy with them,” Jehle told me in her letter.
Because her critters are so “soulful” and “personable,” her collectors respond deeply and viscerally to their appearances. Jehle was moved by one note that she received from a customer: “The most touching experience for me was when a lonely widow, who has adopted many of my bears, wrote to me that my bears give her so much comfort and now she is no longer alone. This is so very important to me! It is very important that every one of my bears has its own personality and is a real pal. My bears have to convey that they really live. They are really alive. I want them to be seen as Lovable Fellows.”
The artist knows about the power of make-believe and connecting to one’s special, chosen, cuddly cub. She had that same experience in her childhood. “Teddy bears have always had a special place in my life. As a child, I had an old Hermann bear, which was a gift from my mother,” she highlighted to me. “This bear (I’ve called him Hermann) was also my mother’s childhood bear before it was mine. But as so often happens, when I grew older, Hermann was forgotten for a while. He was sitting in the attic for some years. But I’m happy that I still have him and now he is sitting beside my bed. I feel that I keep that part of my childhood with Hermann. I am glad that I rescued him and restored him to his important place in my life!”
Her home has hosted an ever-growing hug of teddy bears (and other stuffed animals) plus a lively litter of playful, active cats. She draws inspiration from her frolicsome pets and her array of artist and manufacturer bears: “I truly love old bears, but I only have a few of them because they are so expensive. My two favorites, among my old bear collection, are my Steiff bear from 1908, which has nearly lost all his mohair but has such a cute face, and the other is a Bing bear from 1910. That one is in better condition. Both are sitting on my desk and are smiling at me at the moment. :-)” Another very special bear for Jehle was a wedding present to her from her husband: “It is a traditional style bear from artist Barbara Ann. I love it!”
Since she is such an enthusiastic collector herself, Jehle empathizes with her collectors when they request or purchase a critter from her studio. She gets such a kick out of hearing from them as they await the big arrival day of one of her bears. “Bear making makes me happy. But the best of all is when I hear from a collector that she or he loves my bears and that they make them happy too. I would like to say a big thank-you to all my collectors. You are the ones who keep me doing what I love to do! Big bear hugs to you all!” Jehle made sure to write.
Over the past 22 years, Jehle has tried her hand at a variety of different breeds and characters. She never hesitates to tackle a different critter or style of creating. This versatility is what fuels her passion: “I love trying new designs and ideas. I love experimenting with new materials, patterns, and techniques such as needle sculpting, needle felting, eye lidding, airbrushing and jointing. My head is full of new ideas and I love to create a large variety of styles. Nearly all of my bears are one-of-a-kind. I love the antique-looking bears, which look like they were loved by generations of family members, and I also love whimsical creations. The reason why bear making is still fascinating for me after 20 years is to make not only one sort of bears!”
Karin Jehle’s menagerie of critters measures anywhere from 1.5 to 24 inches! That’s a huge range, and it mirrors her commitment to conjuring up individual and unique artworks. After plying her craftsmanship over the course of these productive years, she still has one burning, true wish: “I’m very happy that many of my creations have found new homes in each continent around the world. It’s my big dream to take off on a world journey and meet them again one time. Wouldn’t that be perfect!”