Photos courtesy of The Plush Bear’s Story
Anniversaries are special, aren’t they? It’s fantastic to be able to sit down, light a candle on a cake (or a cupcake, if you’re not that hungry), and recall one’s accomplishments and achievements. It’s funny how certain numbers tend to carry more weight when anniversaries are considered. The fifth anniversary resonates so much more than the fourth or the sixth. Isn’t that strange? But people — and greeting-card companies, especially — like to make a fuss over the years that key into the number 5. (Numerologists out there, any theories why?) So, in that spirit, here is a look at the work of Elena Penzeva, a Ukrainian bear artist who is marking her fifth year in the bear business, now in 2016.
Back in 2014, I had the chance to chat with her, and she was chronicling her three years as a creator of vintage-looking, totally sweet critters. The interview occurred in late September, and here are some “photo outtakes” — pictures that didn’t make it into the final article — along with ALL of her quotes and insights about being a creator and lover of “antique-ish” bears!
Penzeva made her first Teddy as a gift for her young child: “I crocheted my first cub as a toy for my son, since this is my passion! I love to make patterns and figure out how to create new things. I made the first bear and I was very pleased with it. I have made many more and many other critters since then too!”
One of the things that Penzeva hoped to achieve with her handiwork is a salute to childhood innocence. “When I think of teddy bears looking like children or little funny characters, it is so cute. It is so comical! I believe that this is the love of my life,” she declared in the interview.
Having discovered her innate ability to transform a host of materials into a huggable character, Penzeva knew that she needed to have a defining theme — something that would distinguish her offerings from others on the market. “I believe that my cubs are very cozy. I think they come across as domestic, funny and amusing,” she explained. “At the end of the day, I hope that all my creatures make people smile. I make all of them in order to make other people happy.”
Getting the chance to chat with her collectors and with other like-minded bear aficionados was a high point for Penzeva, who still considered herself a “newbie” back in 2014: “For me, the chance to take part in exhibitions and shows is a breath of fresh air. I love that I have the ability to communicate with my colleagues, and I get to meet so many new people. It is just like a little fairy tale, to me. One day you don’t know someone, and the next day you do! Going to bear shows is an adventure, and I particularly love these shows during the New Year holidays!”
Making acquaintanceships and friendships with her followers and fans has given the artist some genuine glimpses into what makes them tick. This insight helps her when she settles down to create: “I feel that the people who collect teddy bears want to surround themselves with kindness and warmth. They do want to go back to their childhood, at least for a little bit of time. I understand that and I do feel that way sometimes, too.”
Penzeva has vowed to keep some of her characters as “heirlooms” for her son. “I make sure that a few of my bears, made in vintage style, remain in my personal collection. These Teddies became favorites of my son,” she remarked. “I have sworn to myself that I never would give them away. They will only be his!”
Conjuring characters out of thin air, making magic with her needle and thread, Elena Penzeva was overjoyed to be a part of the buoyant world of teddy bear artistry. She had a handle on what her role would be.
“In the world of teddy bears, I really like the feel of being a fairy who brings joy and happiness to other people! That has been my great discovery. I love making people happy. This has been my story so far, and that is why I call my business The Plush Bear’s Story!”