For us arctophiles, teddy bears are members of the family. It doesn’t matter if they are so tiny they can be cradled in the palms of our hands, or so huge that they dominate one-third of a king-size bed. The physical size of the bear doesn’t matter; its ability to touch us emotionally and sentimentally is what counts. Teddy bears are our “spirit animals,” and Zwergnase knows that there is a definite marriage between mohair and mental connections, plush and psychic telepathy. They make bears that bridge the gap between children’s playthings and playful children themselves.
Zwergnase is the brainchild of artist Nicole Marschollek-Menzner. Born in Rauenstein, Germany, she grew up intrigued by all of the arts and crafts that her region was noted for. Her corridor of Germany is celebrated for its porcelain, glass, and toys. A curious and artistic child, Nicole experimented with making her own dolls and cuddly companions. It was a skill that she felt a gravitational pull toward; she couldn’t control herself. She was whirring ever closer to wanting to become a professional toy maker.
In order to become the best at her lifelong desire, Nicole enrolled at the College of Toy Design and Mechanical Engineering in Sonneberg, Germany. She excelled at her courses and was determined to broaden her manual abilities and mental aptitude. She applied for and garnered a job at a doll-manufacturing company located in Upper Franconia. It was here that she gained confidence, experience, and faith that she could one day run her own corporation.
That goal became a reality in 1994. Nicole and her husband, Bernd, formed their own company, and from that moment on, Nicole has been hands-on in conjuring up dolls (naturally) and their bear friends. Zwergnase teddy bears are lauded for their sense of style and nearly human demeanor. With their fashionable togs and long, plaited hair, they look every inch a coltish schoolgirl. The Zwergnase teddy bears truly are reflective of proper young ladies decked out in lovely, boho-chic attire. They are clotheshorses with an ursine bent!
When I interviewed Nicole about her life in the toy industry, and her unapologetic love for combining real-life looks with wonderfully otherworldly characters, she was articulate and endearing.
“Since a young age, I knew I would be an artist. I was inspired by the surroundings where I grew up, and I knew this was something I would study,” she revealed. “There is not a time when I didn’t want to create something. I always wanted to do something that involved creative expression. That is what my doll, and my bear, career is about.”
Recalling her time as a student in Sonneberg, Nicole admitted that it was a chance of a lifetime that she would never trade for any other opportunity or pursuit: “While I was in school and working for the doll manufacturer, I was given the chance to pursue my own creations and to think about what path I wanted to follow.”
In both her doll and teddy bear designs, as well as other critters, Nicole has one motto that she always prescribes to: children matter, and they matter a lot. “Children have so many different expressions, and I have always loved to be able to capture them. I have always attempted to replicate this whole range of expressions with my creations,” she wrote to me. “Where I lived and worked, so many new things once began. So, why wouldn’t I try to begin something new of my own? Why wouldn’t I want to forge my own destiny?”
The Zwergnase bears are indeed a departure from what one imagines as a dressed bear. They are not typical, round, Pooh-like cubs decked out in a fancy dress or a Sunday-Best suit. No, they actually appear to be young doelike girls, with gangly and long appendages, swaddled in artsy, vintage attire. Picture whatever young teen actress is the “it” girl of her day. Then envision her in a “Vogue” magazine fashion shoot, showing off her free-bird, hippie side. That’s what so many of the Zwergnase bears remind me of. They are a hybrid of a young teen girl on the verge of growing up, while also inviting us collectors to postpone our own growing up for a little while longer.
When I asked Nicole Marschollek-Menzner if she had any favorites amongst her many lines of dolls and bears, she had the perfect answer, one that would not cause any rifts between her brainchildren.
“No, I do not prefer one doll to another, or one bear to a doll. They are such a part of me that I could not tell you which eyelash is my favorite on my own face. That is how much they are part of me. They are under my skin and in my mind,” she emphasized. Nicole spoke like a true bear mama!