Photos courtesy of Barbara Spiga
Have you ever wondered why a person chooses to become a teddy bear artist? Is there some moment of grand realization — an unavoidable lightning bolt that soars out of the sky and strikes a “mere mortal” with a life-changing epiphany? Have you ever imagined why some people are called to create and others to collect? Here’s a very eye-opening account of how and why Barbara Spiga became a teddy bear maker. It has nothing to do with following a “higher calling” and everything to do with her husband’s refusal to pay a so-called high price for an artist original!
“One day I went to a bear show in Switzerland and I fell in love with an artist bear. I asked my husband if he wouldn’t mind to purchase this special bear for me,” Spiga reminisces.
“My husband had a look at the price — and said, ‘Wowwwwww! Oh, no, my darling, I don’t work half a month to pay for this bear for you. But, dear, have a look at the lady who made this bear. How many hands does she have? How many eyes does she have? And how many brains do you think she has?’” Spiga continues. “When I asked him why was he asking me all these stupid questions, he looked at me very seriously. Then he said, ‘She doesn’t have anything YOU don’t have! So, if you want a special bear, you are going to have to make your own!”
Yes, that was the clarion call that Barbara Spiga received to try her own hands at birthing a bear: “I had an old coat from cheap fur, and I tried to design a pattern. Fortunately, I wasn’t bad with the pencil and paper. Instead of articulations, I used line and buttons. I had a teddy bear to study and look up the different pieces I would need or try to replicate. At the end, the bear came out looking like the Coca-Cola bear — at least in my eyes! I knew I could do this, and I was on my way!”
Since her first attempt in 1999, Spiga has been branching out to make many more charming bears and their dashing and faithful sidekick companions. Working under the business name of Bobbybaer, Spiga has made quite the name for herself at dreaming up kittens and cats, puppies and pooches. Her dogs and feline friends are adorable and memorable: “My animals have special expressions. They are not really ‘sorry,’ but they are not actually ‘laughing’ either. I would describe them as ‘tender’ and ‘attentive.’ You can actually cuddle them without fearing that you will destroy their look or their clothes.”
In fact, Spiga is so certain that her animals are “very solid” that she offers up this “anger management” observation: “You shouldn’t, but you could throw them against the wall without fearing that the sewing would be ruined! Ninety-nine percent of all my critters are filled with rubber, so that they have a nice weight. They are cuddly and soft and come back to their original shape — even if you accidentally rolled over on them by sleeping.”
Spiga knows that some grown-ups — but not too grown-up in their actions — do take their stuffed-animal pals to bed as sleep aids. She calls them her “Dou’dult’s” creations. The very verbal Spiga has a different name for all of her critters and their intended audiences.
“The Dou’dult’s are soft wobbling toys for adults and can be any kind of animal. The Sushis are half anime and are any kind of critter. Moppels are classic bears, and are very soft, measuring from 2.5 to 20 inches. The Oldies are any kid of critter made from old mohair, upholstery, or antique linen fabric. Then there are my Cats and my Dogs. These categories are all part of my Bobbybaer Family of creations.”
The very passionate artist has a soft spot in her heart for her soft animals and her collectors. She is proud that her handiwork can bring comfort and joy to the men and women who gravitate to her visions. “I want to make critters who can follow any mood you’re in — whether it is joy or sorrow, excitement or calmness, good days and bad-hair days, too!” she reveals. “Making bears gives me peace, and it calms my nerves. I can forget everything when I’m on a new project. I create something that I want, and no one can judge if it is right or wrong. Nobody really knows what my brain is spinning!”
Barbara Spiga credits the realm of bear making and critter artistry with giving her a sense of renewal and purpose: “Before I started to dive into this world, I felt somewhat lonely and had several complexes. The bear and soft-art community raised me up and offered me a new and gentle world. I’m very grateful for the support and feedback of everyone from this particular part of the world.”
Spiga is impressed by all the international friendships, colleagues, and contacts that she has built through her Bobbybaer business. She acknowledges that these “wonderful people would have been strangers to me if I didn’t make my bears and cats and dogs.”
Looking over her creative occupation, and realizing that it all began when her husband said “no” to an impulsive bear purchase, the artist is amazed and humbled by how it all has worked out in the end. Though she was unaware of it at the time, this was perhaps the road she was always meant to navigate and travel upon.
“Growing up, I didn’t have any knowledge of sewing, but I did have a great passion for stuffed animals. The rare dolls in my childhood had very hard lives! I only loved to cut their hair,” she shares with a laugh. “My bears and my other stuffed animals were cherished by me. They were beloved, even if one or another didn’t always escape from a good haircut by me!” she remembers.
“When I was grown up, I lived through a rather rough time of my life. One day I received a postcard with the following words: ‘Teddy bears dry tears and give comfort and tenderness to all who need it.’ This was, is, and will always remain the aim of my creations! Whether it is a bear, a cat, a dog, or any other critter, this is why I create. My creations are meant to be cuddled, and they are meant to make you feel better for sure!”