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Meet Peggy Fleming of The Pleasant Ridge CollectionMeet our August/September Artist: Peggy Fleming of The Pleasant Ridge Collection. 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 learned to sew at my mother’s knee, so I actually started making bears and dolls from her scraps when I was very young. Mom was an avid seamstress and made most of our clothes. She was fond of telling the story of how when I was about 2 years old, I swiped her presser foot when she wasn’t looking and wouldn’t tell her where I had put it. When my dad came in from the field he picked me up and walked me around the house until I pointed to it. He thought I was pretty smart to know exactly what would stop my mother from sewing! As I grew up, Mom and I shared many sewing adventures – prom dresses, quilts, and my wedding dress.
In the late 1980’s I entered a teddy bear in the Iowa State Fair and won a ribbon. A couple years later, I saw an artist-made miniature bear in a store and wanted it badly. My husband told me I could make one. So I did. That was over 25 years ago and started me on the road to designing bears for the collectible market.
Describe your style of bears and/or animals you make.
Most of the bears I make are miniatures in the style of early German bears. They typically have sweet faces. I make a lot of different mohair and alpaca animals and those are mostly realistic. In the last ten years, I have been doing a lot of needle-felting, mostly old-looking Father Christmas-style Santas, Santa bears, some reindeer, chicks and other animals. I like the versatility and have made pieces that are containers or Santas that carry a needle-felted basket and toys. More recently, I’ve been doing mixed media pieces.
Where do you live and where are you originally from?
I grew up on a farm in Southwest Iowa by the name of Pleasant Ridge Farm – hence my company name. I have lived in Des Moines, Iowa since coming here to Drake University where I earned my degree in journalism.
What inspires you?
The little faces of my dogs who stare at me while I work wondering why they are not in my lap are probably my most constant inspiration spanning a Peke-a-poo named Muffin, a terrier mix named Sparky and now my Westie, Rowdy. Early Steiff bears are a big influence. What inspires me the most these days is trying something new and challenging. I like to do something that hasn’t been done before.
What is your favorite part of bear making?
I have been collaborating on designing and making convention souvenir bears for Kansas City Jubilee with two friends, Terri Larson and Joel Hoy. Collectively, we call ourselves Once Upon a Needle and have been hosting periodic internet gallery shows on our website onceuponaneedle.com. We live in a 3-hour triangle – Des Moines, Lincoln, NE, and Lee’s Summit, MO, so it has been challenging working on this project together. We’re learning a lot about each other, ourselves, and how we each do things. Since I work full-time now, I don’t know that I would still be making very many bears unless I had this connection.
How did you choose your business name?
It’s where I grew up. I draw a lot of inspiration from things I did and saw growing up on Pleasant Ridge Farm. That is where I learned a lot of my skills and received a lot of encouragement from my parents. It’s The Pleasant Ridge Collection so I am not limited to bear making. I am an artist who works in a lot of different media, so I like to keep my options open.
Do you have any other hobbies besides bear making?
Well, of course, I am a collector. I try to specialize so I am not overrun by my bear collection, but then, I find I have several specialties – hedgehogs, miniature vintage Steiff, pandas, Westies, bears made by friends… I try to do some scrapbooking every now and then and genealogy. Most every year I design a tree for the Festival of Trees and Lights here in Des Moines that benefits Blank Children’s Hospital. I sit on a couple of community boards and committees concerned with social justice and environmental issues.
Do you have any children and/or pets?
My husband and I have three grown children, Katie, Megan and Robert. The younger two still live at home. They are all in college. I have the aforementioned Westie, Rowdy, who is my baby, an aging huge happy dog named Teddy who is some kind of German hunting dog mix, and two old gentlemen cats – Abner and Leo. My son and daughter each have a cat in the house also. We have also had hedgehogs and budgies and other critters when the kids were younger.
What are you most proud of?
Of course, I am proud of my kids. As far as career goes, I am proud that I was able to return to the traditional workplace after staying home with my kids for seventeen years and find my perfect job. As a teddy bear artist, I am proud of being selected to exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, even though 9/11 and surrounding events caused the exhibit to be cancelled. I am also proud of my TOBY award and being selected as one of the premier designers for Effanbee Doll Company’s Bear Essentials Line .
Where do you sell your bears?
I sell my bears from my website pleasantridgecollection.com and the Once Upon a Needle website. I go to one or two shows a year and the Iowa Teddy Bear Makers’ Guild occasionally has a show like the upcoming Holiday Magic open house scheduled for November. This year I exhibited at the Teddy Bear Reunion in the Heartland in Clarion, Iowa and I will be at the Kansas City Jubilee in September.
The Pleasant Ridge Collection
The Pleasant Ridge Collection
The Pleasant Ridge Collection on Teddy-Bears.org