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Truth, Tradition and Quality

By Linda Mead of Spare Bear Parts, Interlochen, Michigan © 1998


This is the third in a series of articles offered to help market collectable teddy bears and other artist produced works.  

A store owner recently suggested to me that I use this forum to tell show promoters they should have stricter guidelines for who should be allowed to sell at shows. He went on to say, that he thought too many of today's bear makers were more concerned about the quantity of bear styles that they could produce, rather than the quality of their workmanship. It was his opinion, that all show promoters should jury shows. Meaning only those artists designing their own patterns, doing quality work with "proper" materials, could participate.

When I asked, "who would define quality and what were the "proper" materials anyway?" he skipped over the issue of defining quality by answering that he had seen bears made of old bedspreads with kitty litter used for stuffing and that artists should not have that type of merchandise at a collector's quality teddy bear show.

I don't know anyone else who is in a better position to judge acceptable levels of quality in workmanship, than the consumer. To the consumer acceptable workmanship is closely related to the asking price. For example an artist may consider slightly off set ears or unmatched eyes to give their work "character". Based on previous experience the consumer assumes a value, even before looking at the price. If the price tag is much larger than what the consumers has in mind, they might judge it to be "high" priced for a "not quite perfect bear". Conversely, a sale might be made, even if a thread tail wasn't snipped or the muzzle fur is unevenly trimmed, providing the price matches the consumer's level of acceptable workmanship. Consumers' exposure to a range of artists' styles, workmanship and accompanying pricing at shows gives them the knowledge and experience to better understand the value of artist made bears. However, how can the consumer make a judgment about the stuffing? Something they can not see and often don't know about unless they think to ask or it is listed on the label. I make it a point in my classes, videos and other educational materials to encourage creativity, and experimenting with dyes and various materials to achieve the maker's own creation. After all, if we only used the "proper", traditional materials we would only be making bears of 1/4" upholstery mohair stuffed with excelsior. But, I was taken aback when I heard a bear was stuffed with kitty litter. As I stress creativity I assume people will use common sense in the products they choose. Is kitty litter safe for the long term and potentially active life of a teddy bear? Is kitty litter safe for the public to hold, hug and possibly sleep with?

I asked the members of the "Teddy Bear Chat List" on the internet for their opinions. I was overwhelmed with responses. Only two had used it for craft type projects like door draft-stops etc. One response answered the safety question. They said if they held a bear stuffed with kitty litter, they would have a severe, possibly life threatening asthma attack.

Currently, there are only four states that require content labeling of "toys" (PA, MA, ME, OH). Many soft sculpture artists who sell in these states, object to these laws, feeling they do not allow for the type of materials used in adult collectibles. Yet, unknowing of the potential hazard to asthmatics, kitty litter has been used by one or more artists. This certainly should give all bear makers cause for concern. If this or some other hidden hazard were to cause a problem for an uninformed buyer it would provide a good reason why these states would not want to make exceptions for "adult collectable soft sculpture".

Some people would discourage creativity by restricting shows to their own ideas of quality and "proper"/traditional materials. The creativity of the artist must be encouraged while protecting the collector. Collectors have a right to know what they may be buying, holding, hugging and sleeping with. It is part of their education as collectors and their right as consumers. The collectors can judge what is acceptable and "proper" materials if they are fully informed.

All selling artists have an obligation to protect the soft sculpture industry and the health of collectors by disclosing all materials used. "Truth in advertising" is one way of thinking about it. A simple label listing the materials, attached to the soft sculpture work you offer for sale, is a good way to assure your collectors know what they are buying.

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