To Patti Thomas of Ivy Rose Bears, bear making is sweet and timeless and transports her back to a time when her son, Jake was still a “little boy” and her daughter, Ivy Rose was a cuddly, plump, dimple-elbowed baby; all played in the park for hours and dreamed bear dreams.
From her home in Tampa Bay, Florida, Patti started designing her unique bears after creating a doll for her daughter, Ivy Rose. "I had enlisted the expertise of a doll maker to help me sculpt a face that looked like my daughter," she recalled. "I gave the doll to Ivy Rose, then 16 months old, as a special Christmas present in 1995."
Using a small piece of clay, left over from the project, on New Year’s Day in 1996, she sculpted her first bear face. She thought it was fun and interesting and immediately started imagining what the perfect body for that face might look like. Though having never made a pattern for a bear body, Patti quickly set to work drawing pattern pieces.
Her efforts were successful. Soon, her first bear was completed. "He was a tattered, well-loved looking fellow, with a wise old face. I named him Calhoun. I could hardly wait to sculpt another face and before long, Gunther, my second bear was created. That’s when I fell in love with bear making. His happy, innocent and lovable face still warms my heart.
I still have both, Calhoun and Gunther and when people ask me about them, I say they symbolize “Wisdom & Innocence”."
More than that, they symbolize the first two steps of a beautiful journey that has brought Patti and her family many years of joy.
The unique quality of Patti's bears and buds is that their faces aren’t fur.
They’re hand sculpted out of polymer clay, using no mold, so no two faces are ever exactly alike. She designs her own patterns for their bodies which are usually mohair and are 5 way jointed and heavily weighted.
Often, before she began making a bear, Patti had an idea for the face and body. Rarely does it turn out the way it was initially imagined because the clay begins to have a mind of its own and the finished project will look nothing like what she initially thought she was going to sculpt.
"I attribute this strange and quirky reality as being a large part of the reason I still feel excited to begin sculpting a bear or bud."
"I’m often surprised by the character when it’s completed and to this day, I still sit back in my chair and laugh at the face looking back at me." She continued, "It refreshing to look at a new face and start to imagine its personality, character and what part it would play in our imaginary bear world we call “Along the Garden Path”.
One exception to this method is in the creation of “Bearly You” bears. “Bearly You” bears are created by looking at pictures of real people.
"I transform the clay into as close a replica of the real person as I possible can. I can give the face a “bear nose”, or a human nose. There are different body choices too … bear tail or baby's rump.
"When creating the "Bearly You" bears, I go straight by the photo. At times, I spend up to two weeks working on a face before I’m happy with the results. Occasionally, the face is finished in only a day."
"When I feel the essence of the real person coming through the clay, I stop and bake it. The special gift of the “Bearly You” bears is their healing and bridging ability."
"They are sometimes used by adults as part of 12-step programs, to work on the part of their past that effects their present, to heal the past hurts of childhood, or to revisit or repair their own childhood."
The bears can be dressed, hugged and pampered. Sometimes they’re used to bridge the distance between people such as a grandparent who is unable to spend enough time with a grandchild, or a military parent who has not yet seen their newborn and wants a bear-like replica of the baby to hold while their son or daughter are away serving their country."
Patti recalled, "I didn’t understand the true connection people felt with these bears until I made one from a baby picture of me when I was 10 months old. Soon, I was looking for a dress for it; in the color and style I’d been wearing in the picture and I understood how these bears can reach deep into the heart of a person and become more than a soft, fluffy hug."
Her children's interest and fascination for the bears have remained a constant through the years.
When her son Jake was 10 years old, it was his suggestion to put the bear’s name on its belly-button; a trademark of Ivy Rose Bears.