Photos courtesy of Three O’Clock Bears
It’s a good thing that Jenny Johnson’s bear business is called Three O’Clock Bears. For me, that’s a magic time of the day: the kids are out of school; they’re heading home; all is right in the world.
Time is on my mind a lot these days because I never feel like I have enough of it as we all careen our way from November to the end of December. A year that might have crawled by slowly — I mean, was that NOT the longest election cycle in history — suddenly flies into warp speed as we head toward Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then the brand-new year. It’s as if time takes on a mind of its own — and it is not mindful of our decorating, shopping, and celebrating needs.
That’s why I was so happy when I came across my correspondence with Jenny Johnson. Amid her notes and photos, I found a teddy bear image that embodies for me a feeling of hopefulness, optimism, and pure whimsy and wonder. It’s a gorgeous summation of what the holiday season means to me, and perhaps to you, too. It’s a photo of her bear that was selected to be Miss January for an artist calendar.
“I did all the photography and background illustrations for the calendar. Twelve artists worldwide were invited to appear in the calendar and I was asked to do all the photography and paint the backgrounds for each bear. This was done for Silly Bears teddy bear shop, in Aberdeen, Scotland, and its owner, Julieann Bruce. The shop produced 25,000 of these calendars and distributed them worldwide,” Johnson shared with me in late 2014 about the 2015 calendar project.
Johnson is a multitalented, multitasking woman, so it is no surprise that she managed to fit calendar stylist and backdrop painter onto her résumé. Her life is filled with grand accomplishments and a desire to always pull forward and try her hand at something more.
Take her immersion in the world of teddy bear making. She didn’t start out as a little girl desiring to grow up and become an ursine creator. No, rather than wanting to run her hands through mohair, she grew up wanting to cut, trim, tease, and highlight human hair!
“After 37 years in the hair and beauty industry, and having had my own busy salon and been very successful, it was hard to give up a career that had spanned such a long time,” Johnson told me during that October 2014 interview. “I had won many awards as a hairdresser, including the prestigious British hairdressing award, and never ever thought that I would give up my day job to make teddy bears. However, I have been totally amazed at how my work has been received by collectors and encouraged by the enthusiasm for my work.”
Branching into the brave, new bear world, Johnson didn’t know exactly what to expect. Accustomed to her salon clientele, she initially had no idea how bears — and the folks who loved them — would react to her. She was totally delighted with what she discovered: “I have found the industry to be an exciting one and the business of teddy bear making to be challenging, and I am very enthusiastic about it. I don’t think it will ever be possible to make the perfect teddy bear, but I strive every day to think of new ideas, new techniques, and new shapes, styles etc. I have found it easy to occupy my time and fill each day with new projects, and my enthusiasm means that I work even longer hours than I did in the hairdressing salon!”
Johnson took the plush plunge into bear artistry in 2002 and has been amassing a loyal and vocal collector base ever since that day. Her clients respond to her bear’s innocent and soulful expressions. “I think the reason my bears are appealing is that they have very expressive faces that tug at people’s heart strings,” she observed in an early 2015 interview. “I also like to experiment with different styles and evolve my work to create Interesting diversity. This enables people to continue to collect my work and I am not just making the same bear in different fabrics over and over again. I think my ability to create new designs and to evolve enables me to produce work that people will continue to collect. At least, that’s my hope anyway!”
Drawing upon her years as a top-notch hairstylist, Johnson has relied upon a hairdressing tool for her new vocation — a trusty pair of scissors. “I like to give my creations sweet faces and I strive to create an appealing expression. I like to use very dense fabrics, which I like to scissor sculpt. Collectors often say that my bears look like small puppies. Actually, we have a Tibetan terrier dog named Teddie and also a Cockapoo named Bob, and they do have very similar expressions to my bears. I guess you could say that they are an inspiration for my designs,” she confided.
In addition to turning her pets into three-dimensional, four-footed muses, Johnson has converted her childhood recollections into present-day inspiration: “I definitely respond to nostalgic childhood memories. That influences my work deeply. I like to look at illustrations from children’s books, such as Mabel Lucie Attwell and also Beatrix Potter. They have a sort of magical quality and that is something that I always want to re-create in my bears. Although I do not try to create an aged look in my work or distress the fabric and make it look older than it really is, I do like to create a nostalgic aspect in my work. I want my pieces to stir memories. I strive for that in every bear.”
With her reputation growing, and her creations garnering awards and applause, Jenny Johnson knows that she made the right choice to pursue the plush path. “Bear making has afforded me the great privilege of introducing me to wonderful people worldwide, and I have made friends with collectors and bear makers alike. These are friendships I will always cherish,” Johnson remarked. “I look forward to the future now with enthusiasm, optimism, and hope. For once in my life, there are just not enough hours in any day!”
For her dedicated collectors, it’s always Three O’clock somewhere!