Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks for our good fortune at living in America, sharing in our nation’s bounty, and surviving and thriving for another year. Since helpful Native Americans (the first Americans, lest we forget), a ragtag group of recent upstart arrivals to the continent’s shore (the Pilgrims), and a terrain that was chilly and inhospitable all comprise our Thanksgiving story, it can be considered a “creation myth” of sorts. It’s grown to be a parable of clashing cultures that explains how these newly landed Americans learned to flourish, to expand, and ultimately to gain in strength, power, and drive. Through an exchange of trust and recipes, the First Thanksgiving dinner was held, and it is commemorated nearly 400 years later.
America’s Thanksgiving is celebrated from the original New England coastline to the far-West borders of California, off the mainland in Hawaii and Alaska, and at embassies and army bases around the globe. We Americans honor the fabled first meal, and so does Australian artist Lisa Stewart Rosenbaum. Living in Sydney, Australia, the talented, creative artist of Oz Matilda Bears is a lover of Americana. In fact, she has fashioned many bears that pay tribute to different themes and events that are uniquely American.
I recently interviewed Lisa for an article that will be appearing in Teddy Bear & Friends magazine, and here are some images that didn’t make it into the final layout. Lisa emphasized how much America and its citizens mean to her: “I love going to the United States, where I have met so many collectors and other artists whose works I have admired from afar. I have a real connection with America — the people and the culture.”
Among the cultural artifacts and historical figures that Lisa admired is a very special man and his very magical mouse. Walt Disney factors heavily in Lisa’s respect for the United States’ role in pop culture, cinema history, and her own personal development as an artist and a businesswoman. Contacted by Walt Disney Enterprises, Lisa received a license to paint oil paintings of Walt Disney, Disney’s licensed characters, and A.A. Milne, too. “For four years, I and my family were invited guests to Walt Disney Studios, Orlando, Florida. We participated in art shows and collaborated in small editions with Disney. It was amazing.”
Beyond the accomplishments of Disney and his entertainment empire, Lisa is also a bona fide buff when it comes to United States Founding Fathers, many of the early presidents and politicians, and the Civil War.
Over the years, Lisa was lucky that one of her employees was a top-notch seamstress, and this whiz helped to make costuming that was accurate and authentic. “My employee was a costume maker who replicated the clothing from old photographs,” Lisa told me. “I do have a huge passion for history, and eBay became my new best friend to find rare items.”
Lisa Rosenbaum’s bears are extraordinary visitors from the past. Many of them are clad in tailor-made uniforms or breech coats, Victorian garb or Edwardian finery. They reflect characters that have lived centuries ago (or even, more recently, decades ago). They tell a tale of who they were — easy to decipher from their wardrobe and their accessories — and they give a glimpse into the woman who has ushered them forth to be collected and displayed.
It’s interesting to note that there was no beloved childhood bear that has colored Lisa’s imagination and gravitation to the ursine world. “I never owned a teddy bear when I was growing up. I remember my father winning a donkey with an orange mane at the Royal Easter Show when I was nine years old. I actually still have him!” she shared with me.
It wasn’t until 1992, 26 years ago, that she fell under the spell of an antique Steiff bear’s face. “I loved the old forlorn look of him and wondered what his story was, where had he been all these years. I was totally captivated and intrigued. The bear’s face haunted my mind, and I thought perhaps I could recapture his look by making one,” Lisa confided.
“Suffice to say, I never managed to recapture that old Steiff’s face, and the majority of my bear design patterns created were an attempt to recapture that forlorn Steiff. Upon creating thousands of bears throughout my career, I have come to realize that no teddy bear can be mimicked or replicated to an exact version of another. Each bear has his own unique expression. Each one has his own personality,” Lisa remarked.
After almost 30 years of working beneath the banner of Oz Matilda Bears, Lisa Rosenbaum has much to be thankful about. She has created a business that has provided her with a way to express her ideals, her imagination, her values, and her personal passions. Collectors everywhere across America, and the world, are thankful for her artistic outpouring too.