Gail Griffiths                                  September 2008
 

Hong Tang

 

Living with her husband, Bob, and their two cats on a beautiful lake about 40 minutes from downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, Gail Griffiths of Bear Bottom Heirloom Bears finds the woods and lake provide her with a peaceful and inspirational setting in which to sew.

Recalling her childhood, she confessed, “I was actually “teddy deprived” as a young child. It wasn’t until many years later that I was exposed to my first real teddy bear.“

Her first encounter with a real teddy bear was at a flea market in Nova Scotia, in 1994. “I fell in love with it. It was from around 1950, wasn’t particularly distinctive and certainly was not a brand name like Steiff .“

She immediately showed the old bear to her friend, who not only was a talented artist but who also had a collection of old bears herself, along with a few of her own making.

Gail was enticed by her friend to try her hand at bear making. Not knowing where to start, she borrowed a teddy bear magazine from her friend which included a printed pattern. She purchased some synthetic fur and a bag of wool stuffing, along with some plastic eyes and doll joints then set out to make her very first bear even though she didn’t have a clue how to do it.

“I wound up putting the joints in backwards, the wool stuffing gave my hands a severe case of very itchy dermatitis, and don’t even get me started on how the nose turned out!,” she recalled laughingly.

Determined, she decided if she was going to make a bear, it would have to be one of her own design. Having attended art school in her teens, she was accustomed to designing and creating things of her own.

The result of her next bear making attempt was only slightly better than the first effort, but at very least, she felt, she found out how to joint the bear. Undaunted, she pushed ahead, “I was determined to make a bear which people wouldn’t call the local priest to exorcize.”

Gail bought lots of teddy bear magazines and reference books. “I soon realized that looking at someone else’s bears doesn’t mean their talent is going to somehow magically rub off,” she said, as the how-to’s continued to elude her. “That’s when I decided to look for some professional help.”

Hong Tang (Close-up)

 

Rosebud

Her first formal lesson came in a half hour seminar during the Sewing Expo in Halifax by a very accomplished bear artist from British Columbia. That day she found out about mohair, hardboard joints and cotter pins, and that you can go broke the first time you stock up at a show.

Following graduation from art school, and working as a commercial artist for little pay, she went back to school to head in an entirely different direction. That direction took her into a career in radio and television. Gail was a news reader, then a reporter, then a writer editor for the evening news. Her job gave her lots of vacation time. During all the early years of bear making, Gail continued working as a journalist with a television station.

She and her husband officially became “Snowbirds” traveling every winter to Florida. While there, she was able to sign up for classes with some great artists. While there she visited her very first “all teddy bear show.”


Lil' Chipper

“I was agog, (she loves that word) and knew that I just had to get good enough to take part in a real teddy bear show.”

With her love of antique bears never wavering, she continued to collect them and began repairing old and tattered teddies. collectors soon started bringing their bears to the shows she was attending, asking for identification and evaluation.

She would later become an official bear person at the local Antique Road Shows.

In addition, she was invited to write a column on old bears for a Canadian Teddy Bear magazine.

Rosie

“I began to teach in Florida at the RV resort we’ve staying at for the past 15 years,” noting that some of her best work comes as a result of those classes. Many of her students return year after year and demand ever more challenging bears to work on. “I’m told that I am a perfectionist. Just ask my students! I don’t hesitate to rip out a seam or redo a nose if it isn’t perfect. I’m happiest when I’m at my drawing board, or immersed in a vat of dye trying to get the color just right for that next bear!”


Preferring to spend time developing each piece, she doesn’t produce many bears per year. What she doesn’t sell through her web site or at shows, she sells to a high end gift and antique shop in Halifax’s historic waterfront district.”

Rusty

Gail’s list of accomplishments and her enthusiasm for teddy bears has produced amazing results. She’s a juried artist with the Nova Scotia Designer Craft Council and a founding member of the Teddy Bear Artist Guild of Nova Scotia. “In 2002 we worked with the Provincial Government to declare the 100th anniversary of the teddy bear, “The Year of The Teddy Bear” in Nova Scotia,” she remarked. She also put her bears and antiques collection on tour and spent a lot of time that year educating Nova Scotian’s about the teddy bear.

Gail has been bear making for more than 14 years and never tires of it. “I will always be working on something new and I’m never sure where my inspiration will take me.” But she does know that wherever teddy bears take her, she’ll happily go.

Toffee

Taylor

Aimi

Snowball

Choc Chip

 

Gail Griffiths

Bear Bottom Heirloom Bears

Member Since July 2008

 

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