Photos courtesy of Lovable Bears
The month of July holds a great deal of significance for us Americans and for our French friends as well. While we Yankee Doodle Dandies celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, star-spangled banners, and frankfurters, our pals across the pond honor Bastille Day with fireworks (naturally), parades, concerts, and balls. Our Independence Day is July 4, and the French population honors their day of liberty, equality, and fraternity on July 14. We are two nations divided by an ocean, but connected by history.
At one time, all middle-school students knew about the camaraderie between the Marquis de Lafayette and our Founding Fathers. While American history has become more circumspect in classroom instructions, at least there is a semblance of colonial revolution being taught on stage. (Thank you, Lin-Manuel Miranda.) So, in the spirit of Broadway’s “Hamilton,” which portrays the bromance of General Lafayette and General Washington, I am happy to salute the accomplishments of a French gentleman bear maker: Laurent Bergmann.
When I had the chance to chat with Monsieur Bergmann, I was taken with how his first bears were made as gifts of love and compassion. “One day in a Patchwork Quilt Fair, I found a teddy bear pattern with fabric. I made it and decided to do another one, but with mohair, for my mother. She was still feeling very sad and alone after the death of my father two years before,” he shared with me. “From doing that for my mother, I discovered that all kinds of fabric — silk, mohair, alpaca — can take on life when I sew a bear. The passion was born!”
Bergmann viewed his bear making as a hybrid of two classic styles: “It is a crossover between realistic and traditional, but I prefer not to be locked into any one way.” Like a liberator storming the Bastille, Bergmann is happy to knock down all preconceived notions of his talents. “I don’t want my creativity to be stopped by a marketing style,” he confided. “The most important thing to me is that my bears must take on life and have alive facial expressions. That’s why posing possibilities, eye expressions, and shading of the fur and face are so vital to me.”
To help his creations attain a lifelike appearance and believable mannerisms, Bergmann is intrigued by the science behind the styling: “I have a great interest in the mechanics behind making a bear. I like it very much when bears have a lot of posing opportunities, so that is why so many of my bears have double neck joints, joints at the wrist, and spines with armature. When a bear can be made to look like it is moving, it seems that much more alive and real.”
During our discussion, Bergmann pointed out that his “lack of a recognizable style” doesn’t bother him at all. He mused that some of his friends and peers feel that “famous artists have to have a style that every collector can recognize, but I prefer to follow my creativity.” According to Bergmann, he doesn’t follow any one directive or template; he follows his inner drive. “I like to make different shape bears — different heads and noses, different types — in order to accommodate the particular theme of my bear,” he pointed out. “So, my bears will be very different looking, depending on whether it is a fantasy fairy bear or a wise, old-looking grizzly bear. The theme influences the final outcome.”
Explaining his bear-making strategy — and keeping in mind his French heritage — Bergmann likens it to the chance to sample new meals every day. “People don’t eat the same thing every day, do they? They would get bored if they did,” he contemplated. “So I do not make the same bear every day. I need to change my menu. I honestly cannot see myself doing the same kind of bear every day, every year, of my bear life. I have to do what I am inspired to do.”
Reviewing his connection to the critters that he unleashes, Bergmann admitted that he doesn’t have a deadline for when an animal has to be started or finished. It was wholly organic: “There is no time limit to the creativity. When a little shine comes into the eyes of the bear, and the life seems to come onto the face, then I know there is something magical in the air. Then I know I am making the right bear at the right time.”
In the month that honors both Independence Day and Bastille Day, it is grand to have the chance to focus on this very talented and very determined bear artist. Laurent Bergmann’s summary of what makes him tick conjures up the mood of these two national holidays: “I do what I want in order to make me feel good and feel free. Working with freedom is the only way to make a bear take on its life.”