Beverly White’s life and the teddy bear world have changed a lot over the 30 years she’s been creating fabulous bears. But one thing that won’t change is the love White has for what she does.
“My teddy bears are a nostalgic expression of who I am, a furry collage of my life experiences, my emotions and perceptions, my creativity and energy,” said White, 70. “I take great joy in knowing that this work of my hands can bring a sense of wonder, happiness and friendship into the lives of others.”
On the occasion of her 30th anniversary in the industry, White spoke with Teddy Bear & Friends magazine from her second home in Florida, just north of Orlando. In the more temperate seasons, you’ll find her at home in Downington, a rural town just west of Philadelphia—where White and her husband, Mike, raised their five children.
A nurse by profession, White put that career aside in 1984 and began her business, Happy Tymes Collectibles. “I wanted [the name] to be broad enough so it could cover what I wanted to do,” said White, who crafts artist bears, including “Sunshine,” the one-of-a-kind bear on our cover.
When she entered the market in the 1980s, she recalled, the market was on an upswing. “People were just finding out about … this whole new thing called artist bears,” White said. In the beginning, White taught herself her craft — but what she really wanted was for others to cherish and love her bears. She wanted them to be collectibles.
“Whatever I did,” she said, “I never wanted [my bears] to end up at the bottom of toy boxes.” To that end, she created the best bears she could. “I expect that this is going to be a collectible; the rest is up to you.”
The name Happy Tymes, she said, reflects her happy memories of her childhood. “That name serves me well. I’m an eternal optimist.”
White started out crafting wooden nursery rhyme dolls, but later ventured into bears. “Those first bears are rather amusing to look at now,” she said. “There were no classes by experts and books of patterns in those emerging years. I chose then to do it my own way and still do today. I’ve always been able to do things with my hands; I have an artistic eye and mind.
“I chose to make my own road,” she adds, noting that she wanted control over her inventory, style, and pricing. “I wanted to have control of my destiny. It’s important to me. It was a way for me to begin to plot my direction.”
All White’s bears feature her hallmark — an embroidered accent line attached to the eyes. “I call them worry lines,” said White, noting she took the inspiration from early nursery rhyme books (upon which some of her bears are based).
Personality is Key
White is careful to give each bear a distinct personality. Drawing from real life, she created her Portrait Bears, which began with “Laurel & Hardy” in 1992. This series of bears, White said, gave her “my identity within the teddy bear world.”
She has created ursine portraits of such notables as W.C. Field, Charlie Chaplin, several American presidents, Ronald McDonald, John Wayne, Winston Churchill, Elvis Presley, the Mona Lisa, the Beatles, and even the famous Berryman Bear. “A few common folk, too,” White adds.
“Their sculpting process creates a unique art form and some really neat teddy bears; this is wonderfully gratifying, and I wish that I could devote more time to it.” Today, some of her Portrait Bears can be found at the Jeju Museum in South Korea and at Teddy Bear Kingdom in Hong Kong.
White has attended Disney conventions since the early 1990s, for which she creates an annual collector’s edition bear. “This has given me the opportunity to create some dynamic and prized edition and auction pieces for them,” she said.
Working with Disney executives was “very challenging,” she said. “If you didn’t get things quite right, you had to go back to the drawing table.” There was a long line of approvals and licensing involved, but these creations have done very well, White said, and they still often sell for more than their issue price. The original 30-inch Laurel & Hardy sold at the Disneyland auction for $3,400.
White also produces annual Christmas designs and her Global Designs line of more affordable bears. In addition to her Happy Tymes offerings, she also has developed bear designs for Cooperstown Bears, The Franklin Mint, Little Gems, and the Annette Funicello Bear Company.
One of the highest sums her bears ever brought was $20,500, for a charity bear auctioned in 2001. Her bear, called “Chance,” was created to support research and recognition for the blood disease histiocytosis.
Many of White’s bears have been sold to benefit charities championing children’s causes. Such causes remain important to her as a nurse and as a volunteer for the local women’s crisis pregnancy center and the American Red Cross.
White’s Teddies to Go line started out as a way to engage the younger generation. A simplistically designed bear, panda, or bunny kit allows the interactive satisfaction of the customer stuffing their own bear.
The world of artist bears isn’t what it used to be 30 years ago, White recognizes. “I think it’s going to have to run its course, like every collectible has to,” she said. Younger generations are not pursuing collectibles as other generations were, so she sees a leveling out of the field. But that doesn’t mean she won’t continue doing what she truly enjoys.
“Sometimes it is difficult for me to believe that these simple little teddy bears have been responsible for my extensive international travel,” she muses. “They have allowed me to make so many new friends and experience so many wonderful new places. They have slowly stretched their fuzzy paws around the globe, touching the lives of people whom I may never meet.”
For more information, visit www.happytymes.net
In recent months, Jeannie Ammergotti, one of Beverly White’s longstanding teddy bear collector friends as well as a fellow bear maker, passed away. “When her sister brought the boxes of bears to my studio, she also brought Jeannie’s complete and organized sewing station, with tools and materials to give to me,” White said. “Not being emotionally ready to open Jeannie’s little chest of drawers, I packed it, along with our belongings and all my own bearmaking supplies, for our planned trip to Florida.”
As White set up shop in Florida, she worked to complete ‘Sunshine,’ the OOAK bear seen on this month’s cover. The 23-inch bear is made from scraps of a previous project, reflecting White’s diminutive anniversary edition called “Cheers.”
“Unfortunately, I had forgotten the material to create a simple tuxedo collar for him,” she adds. “Anxious and desperate, I finally decided that I must look through Jeannie’s workbox to see if there might be something to solve my dilemma. After several emotional aborted attempts, I eventually opened the first drawer full of tools and printed labels that read AmBeargottie Bears.
“Fighting back tears and the lump in my throat, I continued to open each successive drawer. There, in the last drawer, was a small bag that contained — I couldn’t believe my eyes — a whole selection of tuxedo collars, ready to be fitted to Sunshine, just like it was planned.
“Call it what you will, but I believe that someone smiled down that day and shed a great deal of sunshine on me through that small unexpected gift and blessing,” she said.
“This is the kind of inspiration that feeds my creative spirit, which has kept me making teddy bears all these years and mostly likely will continue the rest of my life.”
“Sunshine” is up for sale on eBay through April 28, 2014 – click here to visit the auction page!