It's Clarion's teddy bear love fest


CLARION,IOWA You thought you knew about teddy bears?

Trust us. Most of you don't have a clue.

Unless, of course, you attended the annual Teddy Bear Reunion, Clarion's mammoth tribute to the beloved stuffed animal.

It's a three-day bear love fest, made even better by the sixth annual Celebration of Boyds on Sunday.

Three buildings were awash in all manner of the bruins, brought to the show by designers, as well as by Boyds, a popular manufacturer of the bears.

Steve Schutt of Clarion, a designer for Boyds and a key organizer for the reunion, said designers from seven foreign countries and 42 states were represented.

The weekend was rife with bearmania. Visitors many were seen wearing bear ears could learn how to make bears, buy bears or simply wander and wonder among the bear-laden tables.

Sunday was a day for designers, many who attend shows to not only sell their bears but to keep in touch with other bear designers.

You could call Joan Woessner one of the "grand dames" of teddy bear making. The crafter from Temecula, Calif., began her business in 1983. Today, revenue from designing and creating teddy bears provides full-time jobs for Woessner and her husband, Mike.

Woessner creates her bears with a look resembling early Steiff bears the famous German toy hallmarks of the early industry.

A Woessner bear is made entirely of German mohair also in the Steiff tradition and is meticulously dressed in antique clothing.

"My bears combine everything I enjoy the antique part of it, the Victorian look," she said.

Her bears sell from $90 upward toward $500, depending on size and construction.

The Woessners in the past have even joined forces with Schutt to teach bear-making.

"We were the first to teach students in England and Holland," she said proudly.

Among the most exacting of bear designers are the miniaturists, such as Renee Casey, also of Temecula, who has hand-sewn bears as small as an inch and a half high with jointed limbs, no less.

It is a business that suits her, she said, "since I am such a perfectionist."

"I just love little things," she said. "It's a labor of love."

Her tiny bears, conceived in 1989, nestle in tiny ceramic shoes, teacups and even antique purses. She doesn't use a magnifying glass to see the detailed stitching, "but my day is coming," she said with a chuckle.

Schutt's bears are well-known. He has worked as an artist for Boyds since 1999, but the former teacher and puppeteer's talents at making bears was known in the industry before then.

Although the Boyds and the reunion gatherings are sponsored separately, they come together every five years when the Teddy Bear Reunion is held, he said.

The event is remarkable, said Liz Smith, vice president of "stuff" at Boyds, based in Pennsylvania. She is often seen on the cable home shopping network QVC with the Boyds line.

The credit goes to Schutt and the people of Clarion, she said.

"I am not amazed by the gathering of the artists, because there are lots of shows all over the country that bring artists together," Smith said. "What does amaze me is the caliber of artists drawn to this show. Clarion has a better artists show than the `official' artisan shows done in a lot of places."