The Biggest Teddy Bear Tour of Australia
As an artist heading off to take art on tour around Australia, I quickly saw the wisdom of abandoning filling the van with heavy pottery and substituting hand-finished teddy bears.
Mothers purchased the small, grip in a baby's hands bears. Ladies purchased the elaborately dressed bears for their teddy bear collections. The biggest and most attention seeking bears, such as this fellow, I named Walter, sat on display until near closing time, late at night, due to being priced more expensively than the smaller bears.
At the outback Australian Shows where I exhibited art and hand finished teddy bears, the crowds would disperse from my popular show as the fireworks display began. I'd take that time to pack up, starting with the children bears, which would happily cuddle up in shabby chic suitcases. I'd enjoy watching the fireworks as I carefully loaded those suitcases across the floor of the van. Next, I'd pack the framed paintings, carefully padding them with blankets, on top of those bear cases. I'd work fast and efficiently at this stage, knowing that any visitors after the fireworks ended might be inebriated. I didn't want a security problem.
I left Walter on show, watching as I folded the table cloths, disassembled the roll-up tables and art display walls. Even as I pulled out the tent pegs holding the marque and guy ropes to the ground, walked each leg of the concertina designed marquee expertly toward what had been the centre of the Art and Teddies on Tour display, Walter watched over me. With the marque neatly compacted, I fed it into a bag and fed its length carefully over the top of the packed display. The fireworks would have ended. Walter waited.
I closed and locked the van door. The stock would be safe. I kept a lookout. If a group of swaying people began walking in my direction, I'd grab Walter, and we would drive off. The biggest bear always sat in the front seat of the van beside me. Happy crowds walked toward the exit gates, young children asleep in pushers or parents arms, still clutching a hand-finished bear they had bought from me. Couples strode arm in arm, stopping to talk, and kiss, in no hurry to join the crowd and leave the show-grounds.
I was in no hurry to leave either. I still had my most expensive teddy bears left unsold. Australia is a big country' and I had 600 kilometres to drive to get to my next venue. Walter and his other big bear companions would be my fuel money to the next town. He had already caught a lady's eye. She exclaimed with glee on seeing Walter sitting in the moonlight, arms out, waiting to be hugged. Once in her arms, how could an intoxicated young man in love resist buying it for her?
Soon other couples had gathered at my moonlit display of the biggest and the best bears that were sized just right for a sturdy bushman to place in his lady's arms. Men, if you want to please a woman, late at night, in an unsophisticated setting by moonlight, forget jewelry or flowers, teddy bears are the romantic gift—and the teddy bear sales lady's fuel money to drive out of town.
Original Teddy Bear Oil Paintings
Teddy Bear in a Basket Framed or Unframed Prints
I painted teddy in a basket as an art demonstration at the Adelaide Christmas Fair for a viewing audience in the thousands. Those fairs were a huge amount of fun, and I always came home laden mint handcrafted gifts for the family. I far prefer purchasing from local, skilled artist craftspeople than buying imported and or mass produced goods.
Are Teddy Bears or Toys an Essential Part of Childhood?
Would I be who I am today if I'd been cuddled and had bears and dolls to cuddle? Would I be a better person? I may have been a happier child, but I like the person that child's resourcefulness made me.
I did not have access to soft toys or book as a young child, so I made my own art supplies, burnt wood for charcoal drawing and mud for sculpting, and I made up poetry to compensate for a lack of books, and then decided that Webster's unabridged dictionary would become my first reader.
I cannot say that I've suffered as a result of such childhood deprivation. humans, especially children can be remarkably resilient, and it's hard to crust a creative or positive nature by not nurturing it.
I was invited to do a painting exhibition at a wedding festival. As I love to do a painting demonstration at each of my exhibitions I hunted up the tiara and wedding veil I had worn when I married Reg, and roses, as I had carried. Jason and Charlotte bear became the bride and groom model for the painting. I completed the work successfully, and I still had several more days to fill. So, removing the veil and tiara, undoing Charlotte's perfect bow, red ribbon and scattering the rose petals, I posed the bears in an embrace for Teddy Bear's Honeymoon. I loved the result.
Jacob got to star once again as a teddy bear character in the novel StarStruck by Ryn Shell.
Teddy Bears in Historical Fiction
Being an author as well as an artist, it wasn't surprising that my experiences is selling teddy bears made it into one of novels. Rose's husband went missing before the birth of their second child, Helen. Now, years late, the young family set out to travel Australia, searching for Linton, the missing husband and Carl and Helen's father. Rose bought a wholesale quantity of teddy bears to sell during their travels to pay for the costs of the search. Read how they managed their first Teddies on Tour exhibition, below.
The Teddy Bear Sellers Chapter in StarStruck, a Novel by Ryn Shell
Together, Carl, Helen and Rose set up a great-looking display at the craft fair in Adelaide. Carl made signage with the bears’ names and prices on baskets. Rose sat out front where people could watch her paint the ribbons on the bears. As soon as the paint was dry, Helen put each bear into its own labelled basket.
Rose had bought most of the bears in bulk lots. Twelve for the large size, forty-five for medium, and ninety-six if they were smaller. With a few stitches and paint, she made each bear look like a different member of the same family.
Customers began calling Rose ‘the teddy bear lady’ and Helen ‘the teddy bear girl’. The crowds loved the interactive display. Rose found it easy to keep up a friendly banter with the customers.
While Carl made the sales, it was Helen who had an ability to get the bears into people’s hands quickly. She let visitors know that the bear display was a hands-on exhibition, and children were encouraged to pick up and hug the stock.
They were so busy. Rose continued to paint and stitch to replace the sold bears with new stock. Carl sometimes had a small crowd waiting to be served. Adults and children alike seem to fall under the spell of the hand-finished bears and spent ages deciding not only if they loved Cedric or Cecile best but also which one of the Cedrics or Ceciles wanted to go home with them.
“They usually choose the female bear,” Carl confided when mother and son had a moment together without customers around. He laughed. “Then they come back to buy the boy bear. They tell me that the bear they had chosen did not want to leave the show without her mate.”
Rose lifted her eyes from the bear ribbon trim she’d painted and looked wistfully at the board with photos of Linton, Carl and her beneath the bold red sign, Have You Seen This Man? Her head lowered and she worked with determination, not looking up again until she needed new stock to paint.
Rose gave the basket load of freshly hand-finished teddy bears to Helen to arrange in the display. “How are you going, kiddo?”
“I love it,” Helen said. “This is the best ever fun.”
When Rose picked up a bear to work on it, a child who was watching her work would ask, “What is the bear’s name?”
Rose would tell him or her, “This bear is a newborn waiting for you to decide its name.”
The delighted child named the bear, and Rose wrote it on the label, and everyone watching enjoyed their experience with the bear-selling family.
“This is probably the closest I ever came to being a child playing with toys,” Rose revealed to her children.
Helen hugged her mum. Everyone watching beamed with pleasure.
“What a beautiful day it is.” A lady lifted Rebecca the bear in the pink-velvet embroidered dress, to look at her pantaloons.
“Fantastic atmosphere,” said her friend taking Marylou and Billy Jo, the country-and-western–style bears in blue denim, over to Carl to be purchased.
“Amazing that you know all the bears’ names,” a lady said to Helen. “Can’t remember my own name half the time these days.”
“But you don’t forget the names of your children.” Helen pulled her lilac bear from her pocket. “This is Sugarplum.”
Rose started to daydream as she painted the ribbons. She wondered why there was never a children’s bear or toy in her home when she was a child. Her dad had bought her a soft toy dog when she was five. Her mum took it away, saying it was too good for her, and kept it for herself.
Hurt built within her at that injustice and the way her parents had forced her to marry Trevor when they knew how much she was in love with Linton, and she had allowed them to do it. Fury raged within herself for having been passive.
During the few years they had been together, after her parents’ death, Linton and Rose had talked a lot about her early life, talked away much of the pain from her memories.
Rose left her daydream and came back to the present moment in the busy exhibition. The crowd of people, handling and talking to the bears, attracted more people. The display became one of the busiest and most successful at the show.
Carl was having a ball. He sat out at the front of the display, on the opposite side to Rose, looking very much her reverse in appearance.
Rose studied him. Carl is blond, slender and tall like his father. He’d grown himself a short stubble beard since they had left the farm.
He’d gravitated to the cream Jacob the bear as his favourite in the same way that Rose noticed that blonde women seem to purchase cream fur bears. Women and men with red hair buy the ginger bears; older silver-haired ladies chose Charlotte, the silky mohair, almost cat-like, silvery pelt bear.
“It is almost like people are making a choice of a family member and are looking for a family resemblance,” Rose said to Helen and Carl after the first day of trading.
Carl took Jacob, held his arms and bounced the bear gently on his knee while looking at and talking to it, much as he had played with Helen when she was younger. Onlookers were delighted when Carl handed Jacob to a stranger in the crowd and invited him to “Hug a bear. Bear hugs are free.”
The exhibition was far more to Carl’s taste than digging rhubarb clumps on the farm. Rose had not realised how good he was in a public relations job. The nonstop sales, seeing money roll in steadily, had Carl on a retail seller’s high.
Rose’s artistic nature was more motivated by creative satisfaction than money, although she understood the real financial state of things perhaps better than Carl. She knew the raw material cost of teddy bears was high.
“It was a gamble,” Rose said. “But, we worked hard and made it work. Thank you.” She hugged Carl and Helen. “It is a relief to know we have the exhibition costs covered and proof we made the right decision in going with bear sales. I need to book more exhibitions fast while this bear craze lasts.”
“Bears don’t go out of fashion,” Carl stated.
“Nothing remains at boom level in retail,” Rose said. “Other sellers are watching our success. They will copy what they think will work for them. You’ll see, in three months’ time, fifty per cent of these retailers will have bears on display, and there will be half a dozen specialist teddy bear stores.”
“I love selling teddies.” Helen tidied up the bears.
Rose helped with the tidy up. “I’ve loved the friendly companionship we have all had together at this show.”
She thought about the watercolour paintings she could do in Central Australia while searching for Linton. Now that they had made enough money to cover the fuel costs, she could enjoy her daydreaming.
Carl brought Rose back to reality again by whispering that he was concerned about all the cash building up in his money bag. She took a wad of notes out of his wallet and was amused by his concerned gaze.
“I am going to the toilet,” Rose said and slipped away.
Carl looked so relieved when she returned empty handed.
She grinned. “Did you think I was off on a spending spree?”
Soon, each time Carl got a full money bag, he gave Rose a walking sign with his fingers, and she came and collected notes off him, then headed to the ladies’ room to return one bra cup size larger.
Later, when Rose’s bra was bursting full, she started to look like she had a rapidly developing pregnancy, and Carl and Helen were as cheerful as the theme of the exhibition. They had their working capital and a proven way to support themselves while they toured the country searching for the man they all wanted, despite their fears of what they might discover when they found him.
Surgeon Operates on Eight-Year-Old Patient's Teddy Bear
"Ryn Shell is an author and internationally successful award-winning fine artist. Her stories are timeless, her paintings are elegant and beyond fashion"