Photos courtesy of Esther Lee
Well, I am in the mood for a jaunt today, so I think I’ll head over to the Far East. That’s what is so fantastic about these Plush Passport excursions. Nothing is ever too far away or too close to examine. On today’s trip, we’ll be landing in Singapore. So buckle up, sit back, and prepare to enjoy the view!
Our hostess for today is Esther Lee, of Esther Bears, who has been making magic with her bears for 22 years. Esther is smitten by the power of make-believe, and she likens her soft-art creations to “little miracles” ushered out to play. That’s a nice concept, isn’t it?
Though Esther has garnered a fan base around the world, she acknowledges that her home country is not as receptive to her talent: “Teddy bears are not as well known here in my country, and that is probably due to our culture. There has been a lack of social media regarding this art, but I feel it is going to improve as time goes by.” She is actively pursuing the outreach to global citizens via her Facebook presence (www.facebook.com/estherbearsndolls).
Despite the fact that Lee had to buy all of her initial bear-making tools and resources from overseas, she has never been discouraged. “My love of being a soft-sculpture artist has remained strong. Creating and working with my hands makes me happy,” she confides. “I am also interested in creating porcelain dolls — I am attracted to making art that comes from my own imagination and from the world of fantasy.”
Esther admits that her fellow countrymen and –women are more inclined to spend “top dollar on a brand-name bag, and not a teddy bear,” but she has not allowed that to stand in her way. She leads workshops to help spread what she has learned and cultivated, and she is always happy to correspond with collectors and fellow artists. She sees the bear world as a small, comfortable, and inviting one.
“I feel like I am in a wonderland when I start a new design,” Esther told me in one of our interviews. “I enjoy the process of hand-stitching all my bears and critters. It is very therapeutic for me. When my collectors are delighted with their finished critters, it makes me feel accomplished and very happy. I feel good about that, and it is one of the things that makes me keep creating.”
Esther Lee cherishes the compliments and the commissions that she receives from her collectors around the world. Each note and online exchange resonates with her: “I believe that people love my work because the critters are really unique and special in all ways. I wish that many people who reside here in Singapore could understand the difference between an artist bear and a toy. A minority of the people understand the distinction, but most still think of it as a children’s toy, not a collectible.”
Esther thinks that this is because of lack of exposure to what bear artists do. “Many of these people think, ‘Why is this bear costing so much?’ It is just another bear to them. It’s nicer than what they can find in a department store, but still it is JUST a bear. Soft art is a true niche in Singapore, and I hope that it will expand in the years that come.”
Until that happens, the artist is busy dreaming, stitching, promoting, and encouraging others to join her in her journeys. “I hope to reach out to more collectors in the other parts of the world,” she muses. “I wish to do more shows and to meet more collectors and artists as the years go by. I want to inspire more people to get to know about this unique world of art.”
If Esther Lee had to define her creations to the uninitiated, how would she describe what she does? The answer comes swiftly to her. “I’m passionate about all the things I have created. My aim is to create works of life. I make different styles of bears and critters to reach out to different collectors,” she observes.
“I do all of this because it inspires me and it connects me to collectors. My style is to be versatile and to be true to my passion. I feel I achieve this,” she notes. All of us who have a chance to sneak peeks at her work heartily agree. She is the cat’s meow!