Photos courtesy of The Wild Things
It’s always eye-opening to discover why an artist dubs her company with a certain name. Obviously, many folks use their own first or last names as their brand — it’s recognizable and it’s easy to make the association. Still, others go for memories of happy times, personal highlights, or sensory reflections. For German artist Susan Donaj, she has drawn from where she lives and what she treasures most to call her company The Wild Things.
The artist, who has been creating bears for almost 40 years now, has mainly resided in the section of Germany called Münsterland. Living in a small town on the edge of this region, Donaj is surrounded by a stunning landscape teeming with living, breathing creatures. Mainly an agricultural locale — it was once ruled over by the Bishops of Münster, until 1803 — this section of the lowland region, the northwestern part of Germany, is known for its amazing population of wild horses.
These unbridled, free-roaming equine creatures live along the Merfelder Swampland. They are part of the landscape’s legend and lore. Hailing from such a natural and exceptional background, Donaj had no choice, did she? Her teddy bear brand just had to be The Wild Things. They are part of her heritage and wend their way through her own personal experiences. When she isn’t sitting down to devise a new pattern or dream up a new critter to introduce to the world, Donaj loved the opportunity to go horseback riding. It was a thrill that informed her life and her creativity.
“I love to create three-dimensional objects,” she wrote to me in a very heartfelt letter. “To start with plain fur and then turn it into something soft and cuddly and cute, it is wonderful!”
When Donaj settles down to “birth” a new bear or a plush pal, she has a definite agenda in mind: “I love to create bears with sweet, innocent faces. My aim is that you look at the bear and think: ‘Oh, he needs a big hug.’ Then, of course, you are drawn to buying him and making him a part of your home!”
During her many years as a bear maker — both as a hobbyist and as a professional — Donaj has had her fair share of hits and misses. However, she is as fond of her “failures” as she is of her triumphs. Even if a bear didn’t come out exactly as she wanted, it was still a slice of life that deserved to be hugged and loved. “I was 15 years old when I made my first bear, but it was actually more of a dog than a bear. After I looked at it, I knew I was hooked! I was addicted to trying to make more and more creatures. It took a long time, but finally my hobby turned into a profession,” she told me.
It is interesting that her debut creature had a canine countenance, because many of her future critters were modeled after her trio of pet cats. “My three cats have been a great inspiration for The Wild Things. I love their sweet, helpless, and pure faces. I attempt to give every bear I make that same kind of innocent and sincere expression,” she explained. “I want my animals to be innocent and kind-looking. That is my goal.”
Through her blog and her Facebook page, Donaj keeps her fans and collectors connected to what is happening inside her studio and inside her home life, too. Her mother’s recent illness is an unexpected setback that she is determined to assist with and help to provide excellent care for her mom. On her Facebook page, she quoted the famous John Lennon insight: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” She explained that her bear business is going on, but in a slower, more spread-out pace. Rather than her Wild Things galloping from her studio, many are now hibernating and waiting to be finished up and completed. A dutiful daughter, she is acting as her mom’s caregiver while she finds time to perfect her bears and other creatures.
“I like to hear from and talk to people in other countries and around the world with the same interests and passions as me,” she confided. Her Facebook page and her website are places where she can connect with her admirers and collectors.
“I really want to offer a big thank-you to all my collectors who have given my bears a loving home,” she went on. “I always have hope that the people collect my bears because of their sweet faces, and also because of all the care that I took to make them. I hope that comes through!”
Able to make her own menagerie, Donaj has not turned to the world of collectible teddy bears for purchasing plush pals or soft-art sweeties. She creates her own, and she has admitted that is an absolute blessing: “There are just too many wonderful bears to collect. I could never decide which one to buy. It would be impossible. Buying them all would ruin my space at home! Plus it would bankrupt my piggy bank!”
Presiding over her cast of handmade critters and characters, Susan Donaj finds peace and contentment in what she has made and in the feedback she has received from her customers: “It has always warmed my heart, and it matters more than you can ever imagine!”