Photos courtesy of Chatham Village Bears
There are two sides to Halloween. No, let’s make it three sides. To borrow the title of a popular Spaghetti-Western film, there is “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” In the cinema universe, dolls are seen as agents of death and destruction. Scratch any Chatty Cathy or Chucky, and you’re liable to be attacked by them later that night. In the plush universe, most huggable and cuddly critters are spared that scary reputation. Luckily for ursine fanciers, there is very little menacing found in mohair.
Movies have a love/hate affair with Halloween. For every Currier & Ives depiction of a nostalgic, sentimental holiday (Think “Meet Me in St. Louis”), there are 100 screenplays that confirm how Halloween is the most dangerous night of the year for virgins, babysitters, and especially virginal babysitters! Producers have helped to drive home the point that terrifying things can happen on October 31.
Fortunately, for those of us who want to keep our Halloweens more Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang rather than Freddy Krueger and his nightmarish Elm Street neighbors, we have the delightfully kooky and seasonally silly work of Art Rogers.
Currently residing in Florida — his home base of Key West just witnessed a real-life hurricane horror of epic proportions — Art began his life in the aforementioned town of St. Louis! Growing up as a sensitive and creative soul, from a young age, Art Rogers was able to harness his imagination and make his dreams come true. It’s a sense of wonder and whimsy that he has never abandoned. While many self-help gurus urge busy grown-ups to sit back and reconnect with their inner children, Rogers never has to book a special appointment. His inner child is happily on the loose 365 days a year, and Halloween is just another day to dress up and rejoice.
Armed with a master of fine arts degree, Rogers has always pursued a life that is centered on artwork and building a bridge between the viewer and the creator. For 30 years, he worked in a museum’s conservation department, and that painstaking dedication to understanding and restoring a piece of art helped him develop his appreciation for what art means to individual collectors and the public at large. Art is an essential part of a culture’s life and a person’s cultural development.
Retired from his meticulous museum duties, Rogers has not sacrificed his connection to the world of visual arts. Rather, he continues to gain fans and earns kudos for his teddy bear and other critter designs. Working under the banner of Chatham Village Bears, Rogers is celebrating his 20th year as a creator of characters that are unique, eccentric, and utterly engaging.
In one of our conversations, Rogers told me: “My designs are whimsical. It is a deliberate choice I make. When I create a bear or other animal, it’s done to make my collectors happy. That is the reaction that I seek. I want my collectors to smile and I want them to feel joy. When I or George see them approaching my table at a show, I want there to be a smile all across their faces. That’s the plan!”
Rogers has an ever-growing, always evolving line of critters, and the Halloween season is the perfect opportunity to invite his fertile imagination to run wild. Many of these designs are available at the Toy Shoppe (visit their website to learn more) and Rogers has imbued each new figure with a sense of humor and a large dollop of originality.
“I know that my designs are very contemporary,” he told me. “They do not follow the traditional looks of ‘this is a teddy bear’ or ‘this is a cat.’ They are unexpected when compared to a classic bear design. Though my work does have a trademark look to it — the eyes are very distinct. I think the eyes add to my animals’ unique personalities.”
Most definitely, the bears, dragons, kitties, pooches, and assorted four-legged beasts that scamper forth from his studios all add up to a tableau of wicked-good creativity. His Halloween bats and pesky spiders manage to weave webs of wonder and heartfelt appreciation for how hard he works to make each one a work of art.
“In the teddy bear world, I am largely self-taught. I attended workshops that helped me to a great degree,” he has stated. “I am a firm believer in a person listening to what he wants to accomplish. There is a lot to be said for personal freedom and creative liberty. I am lucky that I am my own ‘boss.’ Chatham Village Bears is really just a two-person cottage industry, and I can concentrate on what I find to be creatively fulfilling. George has always helped me with the more ‘mundane, tedious’ aspects of the business. By doing all the everyday things — stuffing, ordering, shipping — I am free to be the artist. I can concentrate on making the creations that will make the smiles!”