Photos courtesy of Bearily Pawsing
While we’re all in hectic-holiday mode, it’s smart to take a moment and reflect on the calming, peaceful interludes that the Christmas season brings to its celebrants. Whether a person is a devout Christian, a religious dabbler, a spiritual type, or a secular participant who likes the tinsel and the trappings, the month of December provides ample opportunity to count one’s good fortune.
Just like Jimmy Stewart’s character of George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” you might not have the biggest bankbook in town. Heck, there might even be bill collectors getting ready to line up in the new year, but if you have good friends, a loving family, and a purpose to your days, then you are rich indeed!
This week’s Plush Life spotlight shines on a woman who meets the Frank Capra credo for wealth. (Capra is the director of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Meet John Doe,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” etc.) The Hollywood legend truly believed that a person’s character and conduct defined their worth in life. Donna Manthey, teddy bear artist and occupational therapist, has her priorities down pat.
As shoppers fumble and stumble their way down the toy aisles, clothing departments, and big-box stores, the collectors among them should take a second and consider Manthey’s company’s name: Bearily Pawsing. All of us are “barely pausing” in the hubbub of our day-to-day chores, but Manthey’s creations make us stop, sit up, and take notice. They encourage us to pause in a bearily delightful way.
“I enjoy making fun, playful bears who are ‘bearily’ dressed. My friends and family are helpful in making suggestions. I am also inspired by interesting items that I find in antique stores, vintage shops, fiber shops/shows,” she gleefully told me earlier this year. “I have enjoyed the opportunities for growth in creating different-themed gallery pieces for bear shows, such as TBAI and Quinlan’s Artist Doll and Teddy bear shows, and for online shows. I am lucky that I am always getting the chance to challenge myself.”
Manthey has been making bears since the late 1980s — so that is around 30 years of being immersed in the ursine universe. She has been able to combine her professional career skills with her bear making, which first kicked off as a pastime. “Part of my education as an occupational therapist included learning how to weave, do woodworking, metal work, and ceramics. I enjoyed working with the variety of materials balanced by the science and practical skills needed to become an occupational therapist. Working with one’s hands and learning different art forms has served me well in my teddy bear work, too,” she pointed out.
Throughout her career, the artist has zigzagged back and forth from occupational therapist to bear maker to therapist again to juggling and balancing both. Growing up in Wisconsin, she was encouraged by her family to try her hand at self-expression and creativity: “Both my grandmothers enjoyed working with their hands, including rag rug making, crocheting, tatting, embroidery, sewing, knitting, and quilting. My grandfather enjoyed woodworking and taught himself to cane chairs. My mother enjoyed gardening, sewing, and knitting. They all supported me in learning how to knit, crochet, sew, and embroider from the time I was age 5 and on!”
At the time of our interview, Manthey was residing in Madison, Wisconsin — a city that she absolutely adores. “Madison is full of small neighborhoods, wooded areas, lakes, festivals of all kinds, farmers’ markets, unique stores, yoga studios, and a variety of fun places to eat, listen to music, and go to plays and movies. The free zoo, though smaller than some, just updated its Arctic area with more natural space for the grizzly and polar bears. I just love watching the polar bears swim!” she enthused.
You see how perfect that is: Manthey is a busy woman — balancing two challenging occupations, a family life, home requirements and business demands. Still, she finds time to take a pause — even if it’s just a half hour, a “Bearily Paws” — and watches the bears cavort and play. That’s the arctophile version of stopping and smelling the roses! It’s a must-do activity to keep one’s sanity and sense of well-being. Grabbing a moment to watch the clouds drift by — or a shaggy, furry white bear — is just what the soul requires.
During the year, and especially during the holidays, we all need that moment to sit down, sit back, and recharge our energy. Put your feet up — your “barking dogs” — and grab a cup of hot cocoa and unwind. Grab that pause — whether it is a 15-minute respite or an hour of “me” time.
“I am grateful to the ‘sisters’ of my heart who have all supported me. They’ve given me great advice, and have listened to me when I needed it. They all know who they are,” she reminded me. “I am also grateful to my husband, who supports me in the technical part of the business, and my son, Tom, who has been helpful in giving me support and feedback about the bears. My family has been there for me.”
This Noel month, let’s all borrow a page from Donna Manthey’s guidebook. Think of the people who have aided you during 2016 and consider what you can do for them or for others in 2017. It’s lovely to wrap gifts and to exchange presents, but it’s even better to be present in the lives of our family and friends. Let’s all give each other our pauses.