Photos courtesy of Lisa Page
One of my most favorite summertime excursions — come to think of it, springtime and autumn as well — is a trip to our local zoo. I have held membership at three different zoos simultaneously and consecutively. There is never a moment when I am not visiting with animals that are emblematic of the big, bold, four-legged world that stretches beyond our tidy, human-scaled cityscapes.
The zoological societies I support are concerned about space allotment, care of their inhabitants, and providing the denizens with a living arrangement that best replicates life in the wild. There are detractors of zoos — I know some, and am related to some — but I feel that a well-run, well-maintained zoo is the first face-to-face introduction most people get to the majesty and beauty of animals. From those first childhood visits, a lifetime of loving, supporting, and caring about all species will develop. It is a way to build a future for conservation and protecting endangered species.
Another way many people learn about the wonders of exotic and non-domestic critters is through the work of talented soft-sculpture artists. After a recent visit to a zoo that just welcomed giraffes into its fold, I was inspired to look through my archive of artists who excel at creatures other than bears. One of the folks who jumped out at me is Britain’s Lisa Page. Page works under the company name of Arcas Designs, which is so brilliant!
As Page told me, “In Greek mythology, Arcas was the son of Zeus. He was placed in the heavens by his father, along with his mother, Kallisto, after she was turned into a bear by Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera. They are now known as the Great Bear and Little Bear constellations (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). I liked the idea of a bear connection in my name to reflect my very first teddy bear creations.”
Isn’t that great? Talk about synergy! Not only does Lisa Page provide lovely, lifelike creatures, but she also raises all of our IQ’s with a look at Greek mythology, astronomy, and historical perspective. I knew I liked this artist!
Just like me and millions of other animal enthusiasts, young Lisa grew up with an unabashed affection for nature and its residents. She really got hands-on with her scientific and leisuretime studies: “I have always had a keen interest in wildlife. As a child, I enjoyed collecting frogspawn and watching it hatch into tadpoles and then transform into froglets. Choosing to work on lots of different animals gives me the opportunity to learn all about them whilst researching their shape, etc. I enjoy that part very much.”
Her interest in studying, observing, and exploring led to her receiving a degree in applied biology. She worked for many years as an immunologist, but left that profession to raise her children. Her introduction to the collectible teddy-bear world began in 2007 when she decided to make a cushion cover for her youngest son’s birthday gift.
“I wanted some eyes to sew onto it and an Internet search led me to an online teddy-bear supplies shop and that, in turn, showed me artist bear websites. I was immediately enthralled and needed to find out more,” Lisa told me. “I discovered the teddy-bear magazines and I purchased a teddy-bear-making book. Once I felt that I understood the basics of how to construct a bear, I decided to just jump right in and have a go at drawing up my own pattern. I’m still very proud of that first bear. He sits on a shelf next to my computer. His tummy is rather oddly shaped, and his limbs are attached loosely, but I love him nonetheless.”
Once she completed her debut teddy bear, Lisa Page could not ignore the constant call of the wild. She was hooked, and she wanted to coax other characters to life. Luckily, the world abounds with different species and breeds, and Page’s imagination was limitless. So was her enthusiasm: “It was natural for me to want to combine my newfound hobby in sewing with my passion for wildlife. After the teddy bears, I had a go at making a snow leopard cub, and then came a lemur, an anteater, and a lynx. I found that I loved the challenge of the design process and wanted to create a different animal each time. It was at this point that I realized that my house was starting to fill up with animals. In order for me to continue to make more (and afford to purchase supplies), I needed to try and see if anyone was interested in purchasing my creations. Much to my surprise and delight, they were.”
When Page approaches any of her soft-sculpture projects, she does what she does best. She turns to the pages of her vast collection of encyclopedias and coffee-table books on nature, wildlife, and the great outdoors. She also scrolls through the Internet to see photos and fast facts about her selected animal.
“Once I feel that I have a good idea of size and shape, I draw out my patterns on the back of cereal boxes (a benefit of having two cereal-munching kids in the house). I like to use all sorts of different fabrics depending on the look I am aiming for. My preferred fabric is faux fur for the realistic look that it provides,” Page revealed. “I also like to use taxidermy eyes, again for their beautiful realism. I sew everything by hand and it takes me about a month to complete each new creation.”
Lisa Page is an artist and a woman on a mission. She sees her handiwork as a way to raise the profile of the animals that have found themselves on the brink of extinction. By increasing their visibility, and encouraging collectors to learn about these animals, she is both paying tribute to their lives and rallying for their futures.
According to Page, “I like to create animals that others do not, particularly those that are endangered. This way, I can highlight their plight in the wild. I like to make others aware of the amazing variety of nature and some of its more rare species. If I can accomplish that, then I have done an awful lot!”