In a secret garden not so far away, fanciful creatures come to life
thanks to the loving care and creativity of Mary Wimberley. Mary's
Secret Garden takes it's name from one of Mary's favorite childhood books.
In the story, a character named Mary Lennox discovers a key
to a secret garden. Mary Wimberley's creations wear a brass key in
honor of the original Secret Garden. So slowly turn the key and let's
take a peek inside.
"I’ve been many things in my life but through it all, I was and am an artist," Mary states happily. As a child, Mary sculpted dogs with modeling clay, painted on her easel, drew on her enormous blackboard, sketched portraits of her friends, played with felt, made ornaments out of dough, puppets out of
and of course, learned to sew from her mother.
In the mid to late 1970's, Mary taught Kindergarten; enthusiastically
telling stories to her class and using her hand-made puppets as part
of her story telling. The bulletin boards in her classrooms oozed with creativity.
"Later when I became a puppeteer, I refined my skills as a sculptor and costume designer," Mary said. Those puppets later added a visual element to her work as a professional story teller in the early 80's. In 1983, Mary created figures, sets and props for store displays and walk-through storybook villages.
"I learned much that would later become essential to me as I designed characters, costumes, buildings, layouts, props and sculpted and painted the figures themselves."
She also wrote stories to accompany the walk-through displays and this would help her characters develop and come to life by giving each one their
owner personal history.
In 1993 she was able to merge her passion,
skill and artistic experience into a career in the Teddy Bear world.
"My skills served me well in this new venture but what made it perfect was my love of nature, especially little furry creatures. As a child, stuffed animals crowded my bed at night and during the day, I saved my nickels to buy new critters," Mary recalled.
"I did have a favorite bear named Big Fuzzy but my “hug” was a colorful menagerie of bunnies, foxes, deer, hedgehogs, etc." Little seems to have changed over the years as far as her love of real and stuffed animals goes.
"I still talk to sparrows and kiss my stuffed animals on the nose."
Maybe back then, she did vow to pursue this passion as an adult.
Mary's collectors are passionate about real animals but also
appreciate the whimsical poses, the fanciful costumes and expressive faces of her animal menagerie.
"I think that my customers know that Secret Garden animals have a special tale to share with them."
The reality and the expression of her animals comes from her choice of fabrics, her pattern design, hand painting of the fur, and deep needle sculpting and trimming of the face and feet.
Details such as horsehair whiskers, painted toes, bright hand painted eyes set in eyelids which adds yet another dimension. The wiring in the limbs and use of multiple joints allows the collector to see the full range of their animal’s personality as they learn to pose them.
The costumes, inspired by the animal’s personality, are created with silk, wools and cottons that
contrast with the fur and are exciting together.
each costume is built layer by layer with jewelry, watches, chatelaines, purses, canes, adding the last finishing details.
"The photography is important to me too. It helps me to see if
anything is missing or needs adjustment. I get to know each
character better, and as I view the photos, I begin to hear his/her story," Mary revealed.
"My love of nature, sculpture, fabric, pattern making, costume and communing with people and animals continue to shape my career path," she said adding, "Now, I’m integrating my passion for making characters, finding and making props, photography, gardening and writing by creating children’s stories using photographs of my original characters as the illustrations."