This week, my daughter is attending her middle-school dance. She’s in seventh grade, and it’s a big deal. Even though they are not wearing gowns or tuxes—this isn’t a prom, after all—she definitely wanted to look nice. So she spent a day in search of an “elegant creation.” How interesting that teddy bear artist Vicky Lougher creates her well-heeled (and sometimes undressed) critters under the banner of Elegant Creations. The array of well-garbed bears run the gamut from a “Wicked” witch, who could be belting out “Defying Gravity,” to a dapper husband-and-wife pair of newlyweds. Her characters are supernatural and theatrical, sure to cast a spell on collectors.
Lougher’s menagerie is indeed elegant. Her bears—and occasional bunnies—are classically good-looking, and their costuming is dramatic and theatrical. It makes sense because Lougher had initially intended to start a dressmaking business for a human clientele. Rather than dreaming up ursine finery, the Michigan artist wanted to conjure up wedding gowns and ball gowns, evening wear and special-occasion ensembles. These days, she does the same thing: weaving outfits that are breathtaking and charming. Her models, though, are the teddy bears that she blithely births into this world!
“After a few weddings and a prom dress or two, I quickly changed my mind about the dressmaking business and decided to create high-end craft items that I could market at art-and-craft shows. I created high-end Christmas Tree skirts, Father Christmas dolls, velvet Christmas stockings, and some critters wearing Christmas-themed outfits,” Lougher told me. “During that time, I stumbled upon a McCall’s pattern of a teddy bear family and created my first two teddy bears wearing full costumes created from wool and other fabrics,” she added.
“At the very first art fair I attended in Virginia Beach (near where I lived at the time), I saw my first mohair bears on exhibit. The creator of those bears was very gracious and generous with information, and she also told me about Teddy Bear and Friends magazine, and where to purchase mohair fabric and teddy bear supplies,” Lougher recalled. “Soon after, I did some research and found a book on how to create your own designs. It was such an addiction once I got started.”
Lougher’s initial foray into fashioning furry friends was in 1991. By 1992 she was confident enough to design her own bears, bidding good-bye to other people’s patterns and templates. She exhibited at a bear-and-doll show that same year with one of her original Elegant Creations, and realized she had found her comfortable yet challenging zone. Lougher was home!
It’s interesting that, before she found her niche as a first-rate costumer and creator of teddy bears, Lougher served in the U.S. military. After graduating high school in 1975, she entered the Navy with the hopes of seeing the world. Blessed with a curious and adventurous spirit, Lougher was happy to be stationed at Pearl Harbor for her four-year tour. It opened her eyes to a landscape that was so different from the rural community where she was born and raised.
“I grew up on a farm, where we learned to grow vegetables and keep chickens and other livestock,” she revealed to me. “My father always had animals around, and that is where I learned compassion for all of our feathered and furry friends. There were dogs, cats, chickens, cows, and pigs living on our farm. Between my mother and my grandmother, I learned how to sew, knit, crochet, and embroider at a very young age. They were very supportive of all the needle crafts I wanted to do.”
Her happy childhood was the perfect preparation for her immersion in the teddy bear universe. She had attained the necessary skills to sew and to create; she had developed the appreciation of animals to make them as personable and collectible figures. She followed her path and her bliss to an award-winning career as a bear artist.
When her time in the navy had ended, she migrated to Chesapeake, Virginia, where she shared her life with her husband. (Sadly, her spouse has since passed away after a long battle with cancer.) Her time in Virginia was productive, and she bolstered her understanding of the bear world with classes at the Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus. “I took as many classes as I could that dealt with art and photography. I realized the importance of learning more about design/color and taking quality photographs. It was a really fun time in my life. I went to art museums and exhibits in the area to absorb and critique. I also made several trips to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens and at nighttime, the Norfolk Water Front, to take pictures for my photography classes.”
It is an appreciation of the natural world that surrounds her, coupled with her own inner visions, that do indeed make her critters such Elegant Creations. “My goal is always to create a sweet, irresistible face, full of love and innocence,” she stated. “My inspirations come from my dreams sometimes, or even from a gorgeous piece of mohair or other fabric, and sometimes from an object. I love running my fingers through a new or special yard of mohair, alpaca, or even faux fur, and then imagining what my design will look like. I am always wondering what sweet, little face will peer out at me when the design is finished.”
Having been in the bear industry as a professional for over 25 years now, Lougher has amassed a great deal of honors and experience. It is a field that she has been uniquely suited for: “I guess I am one of the old-timers now! I’ve learned that being a bear artist is not just about making bears. It encompasses a great many other things, like entrepreneurship, marketing creativity, keeping up with tech, and most importantly, working with people.”
The commissions that she has earned from her clients and the associations that she has built are heartwarming and inspirational. She is driven by wanting to rise and then shine for the special occasions of her collectors. These can include presents for bridal or baby showers, or mementos being preserved as heirlooms. “In the past, I have created special bears from a mother or grandmother’s old coat (not real fur, though, because I have allergies). Or I have used an item on the special-ordered bear, like a familiar jewelry piece or clothing item that belonged to a special loved one,” she explained.
“I have also created special Wedding Bears for collectors when their children have been married. Over the years, one lady ordered a special wedding bear when each of her three daughters was married. I matched the design of the wedding dress, veil, and bouquet as closely as possible from a picture that was provided to me by the collector. It was a lot of fun,” Vicky Lougher said.