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Meet Jane Woodard of Heir BearsMeet our June/July Artist: Jane Woodard of Heir Bears. Every other month, we'll bring you an interview with someone in the bear world. Enjoy!
When did you start making bears and what inspired you to design your own?
I took my first bear making class in 1997. It was intended to be just a diversion because I was working about 80 hours/week at the time and didn’t really have much time to devote to anything else. After making a handful of bears, I realized I missed having something creative to do and started spending more time making bears. In 1999 a friend convinced me to do my first show (a horrifying experience!). After surviving that initial experience, I continued to do all the shows I could find in Florida. That made me realize I needed to be designing my own patterns if I was to continue selling bears at shows. I had an opportunity to take a design class from Jennifer Laing who was really an inspiration. Since then I have taken several of her bear making classes and have learned a lot about different designs and techniques.
Describe your style of bears and/or animals you make.
My style would probably be described as classic. Because I use recycled fur coats for my bears, most of my focus is on the fur and the best way to use it to create a particular look. I want my bears to look natural and to show off the naturally beautiful colors and shadings in the various furs I use. I also use vintage or antique accessories with my bears so the classic styles look best with these antiques.
Where do you live and where are you originally from?
I live in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, which is in the southeast part of the state on the Atlantic Ocean. Originally I am from a small town in northern Ohio but spent many years living in Columbus, Ohio before moving to Florida. I am a “Buckeye” at heart.
What inspires you?
Most of my inspiration comes when I see a beautiful fur coat hanging in a thrift shop or at an auction. No one wears these coats any more and it would be such a waste to see them destroyed or end up in a landfill. I can immediately see these coats transformed into beautiful bears. Other inspirations come when I go to antique shows and find fun accessories to use with a bear. Then I design a bear to go with the accessories I find.
What is your favorite part of bear making?
The best part is when I attach the head and joint the arms and legs. To me, that’s when the pieces first start to look like a bear. I don’t complete the face until everything else is finished but as soon as the head is attached, I put in the fake eyes (the ones used when you’re experimenting with placement) and the template for the nose. That’s when I start talking to him or her and can’t wait to finish.
How did you choose your business name?
When I first started making bears, I thought I was only going to make a few bears a year for people who had their mother’s or grandmother’s fur coat and wanted an heirloom for the memories. So it seemed the perfect business name would be “Heir Bears.” Little did I know I was going to be hooked on this venture and end up making over 100 bears every year!
Do you have any other hobbies besides bear making?
Just about all of my free time is spent making bears or doing other things associated with the bears … booking shows and travel, updating the website, advertising, shopping for antiques, working on new designs, etc. I also still work part-time so my days are pretty full. And I enjoy everything I’m doing so maybe my life is one big hobby!
Do you have any children and/or pets?
I have a grown son who lives in Gainesville, FL. My pets include an inside cat (“Kitty”), an outside cat who has no name but apparently has adopted me, and the occasional duck and her family of ducklings who love to visit my patio.
What are you most proud of?
On a personal level I’m most proud of my son and how we both survived single parenthood! On a professional level, I think I’m most proud of being able to overcome my shyness and insecurity enough to actually enjoy and look forward to doing shows and meeting all the other artists and attendees. It was very difficult at first to put my work on display for people to scrutinize. But now I really look forward to seeing and talking to everyone. It’s so rewarding to interact with a customer face-to-face. And nothing takes the place of seeing bears in person and being able to pick them up and touch them to see if you’re going to “bond” with the bear.
Where do you sell your bears?
The number of teddy bear shows have certainly decreased in the past few years but I still do as many as I can, including San Diego twice a year, Tampa, IDEX-Orlando, TBAI and a couple of local high-end arts & crafts shows. Before Disney canceled the Teddy Bear & Doll Weekend, I exhibited there for the last six years. For the last three years, I have co-hosted a teddy bear tea & luncheon at a Victorian teahouse in south Florida where we offer our bears for sale. I’m looking forward to exhibiting for the second time at the Reunion in the Heartland in Clarion, Iowa in 2010. Occasionally I offer something for sale on eBay. My bears are also advertised in the two U.S. teddy bear magazines. This past year I was fortunate enough to have two feature articles written about my bears, one appearing in Teddy Bear & Friends in September, 2008, and the other in Teddy Bear Review in April, 2009, where one of my bears was also featured on the cover. I have a website that I try to keep updated on a regular basis, www.heirbears.com. A few teddy bear shops also have some of my one-of-a-kind bears available for purchase. And if you’re in the Palm Beach Gardens area, I always welcome teddy bear lovers to see what I have in inventory in my home.
Heir Bears on Teddy-Bears.org