Laure Weltsch has mined her memories and her many journeys to create charming critters.
How do you remember what you remember? Why is it that we can recollect a summer’s day lazing in the grass, back in 1979, but we can’t recall what we ate for breakfast last Wednesday? What is it about incidents from our childhood that suddenly make them pop up and feel real and tangible and alive?
For teddy bear artist Laure Weltsch, of Fool’s Gold, her TBR interview was akin to building a time machine that powerfully hurled her back into her childhood, then her early youth, followed by budding days as an artist, ending with a brief stopover at her future aspirations. H. G. Wells would have been proud of Weltsch’s dedicated mission to explore moments from her school days, play days and workdays.
Born in Eureka, Calif., in 1946, where she currently resides as well, Weltsch was the oldest of five children. There were two sisters, followed by three brothers. Each member of the family was two years apart! The house and its surrounding property was a playground and a learning campus for Laure and her siblings. The children would actively cavort and roughhouse with one another, but they also learned about life, nature, love and self-reliance as they stomped around their ¾-acre plot of land.
“The tall sequoia redwoods skirting our property were off-limits to us children, and for good reason. We would never venture into them without a grown-up, because at night we heard the mountain lion’s eerie scream on that forbidden hill. My morning wake-up call was the tapping of a woodpecker on a hollow redwood snag, up on cougar hill. Even before breakfast, I loved to head out to the tall grass near the banks of the creek where I would find huge spider-webs all wet and sparkling in the morning dew,” Weltsch reminisces.
“Sometimes we would discover bear tracks around our toppled trash can, and one time a bobcat gave birth in our pump house. She abandoned one of the cubs, which we tried to rescue, but unfortunately it didn’t survive.”
In addition to exploring the buttercup patch with her good friend Connie, young Laure also had store-bought toys and playthings. She had an array of dolls, which she “admired and preserved as gifts,” but it was her teddy bear that took the brunt of her affection. “My sister and I were each given a wonderful old bear that was passed down from my mom’s family, possibly from the 1920s. Mine was brown and hers was a panda. They were large, gorgeous classics. We didn’t have enough sense to take care of them, and unfortunately both our bears were undone by rough play. I’ve often lamented their demise.”
Life for Laure and her family wasn’t always idyllic. Unfortunately, her parents chose to divorce, and she took their separation very hard. Shortly after the marriage’s dissolution, Weltsch dropped out of high school. Years later, she attended a junior college and simultaneously took the GED exam. Even though she scored quite high on the test, her high school refused to grant her a diploma. Discouraged, she dropped out of school again. “As my grandma would say, my education has been mainly ‘by gosh and by golly.’ It has been gotten by whatever means was at hand.”
Weltsch describes herself as having been restless and antsy throughout her life. “I’ve often put the cart before the horse,” she admits. After spending the first 20 years of her life in Eureka, she “launched into some wild and crazy years. I chased up and down the West Coast for what seemed like several different lifetimes. One day, in Portland, Oregon, I was virtually homeless, with a baby on my hip and a grocery sack of belongings clutched in my arms, when it suddenly occurred to me at age 25, ‘Hey, I think I’ve become a grown-up!’ From that point on, my life began to take on a greater sense of purpose that had sadly been missing.”
While trying to find herself, Weltsch assumed many guises and honed many skills. On her résumé, she can list: go-go dancer, barmaid, mail processor, packer of skinny tubes of seed beads, waitress, figurine painter, cloth-doll maker and bear artist.
“When I first started making bears, I was already a cloth-doll artist. I was invited to a big cloth-doll convention, but was unable to raise the money for the trip. To take my mind off my big letdown, I decided to sew a jointed bear from a purchased pattern. From that moment, my occupation changed course abruptly. Immediately I began designing and making original teddy bears.”
When Weltsch started making bears, she toiled under the banner of Briar Rose Sentiments. However, another bear artist began to work under the label of Briar Rose. As a result, Weltsch opted to sit back, stopped laboring and decided to see what would develop. Her self-imposed hiatus caused her creative juices to bubble into an out-of-control brew. She needed to work!
“I developed an urge to make some clown bears. I had shared my interest with a pair of dear friends who were artists and housemates. They invited me over and presented me with a large bag full of colorful, shiny fabric scraps and fancy trims—inspiration toward the clowns.”
As Weltsch left the house and began to walk down the front porch, a statement simmered in her mind: “They’re not clowns; they’re fools.”
Those words remained in her consciousness the rest of the day, and as she lay in bed that night, the name “Fool’s Gold” sprang up. “The name Fool’s Gold is a dichotomy. In the same way that iron pyrite appears to be gold to the novice, there are some things in life that are not as they seem. God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” Weltsch elaborates.
“It may seem foolish to think that a teddy bear could offer much enjoyment or comfort to anyone, especially a grown-up. But to the one who receives it, whether simply enjoying the artistry or reflecting on the hidden messages it carries, it can have much meaning.”
Home at Last
Today, the artist is happy and content. She lives with her husband (“a unique, gregarious, kind man”) and they are parents to 10 grown children, 16 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. She is back in Eureka, the place of her birth and her early childhood. She lives in a big old converted school that actively housed classes from 1876 until 1963. It’s fitting that she would return to the town that taught her so much, in and out of the classroom, and it’s especially rewarding that she should be residing in a formal school setting.
Her home is shared by a bevy of tenants, with whom she has forged deep and lasting friendships. Laure Weltsch is satisfied and at peace.
“I’m not sure what little beings will find a place amongst my body of work in the future. If it has a face, it will be eligible for consideration. I’m working out an expression of what brings me joy and happiness. You could say that my creations are, in a sense, heavenly in nature, because I am a rather heavenly-minded person.” Amen.