by Hugh Kruzel
Mary Lynn Polano’s bears won’t invade your garden or toss over the garbage can. They won’t come in unannounced through the screen door.
Her bears are well mannered, nicely dressed and frequently have even been known to sport a bow tie.
“But my bears don’t go into hibernation,” answers Polano with a laugh.
Her bears are handmade. As many as 500 have been emerged from her imagination and brought to life with textiles and natural fibres, Many of bears have real fur coats made from recycled clothing.
The Lively artist’s bears are not typical teddies.
“Not all are traditional. I add colours and source new textures as this all evolves,” says Polano.
She has brought some of her newest arrivals to Artists on Elgin to demonstrate the current trend in her craft.
“These four are the youngest… with Persian lamb on some. I like working with mink. Such great results.” The feel is real.
They are cute and cuddly and perennially the most popular soft toy for gifting.
When asked if she had a stuffed animal in her childhood, Polano recalls that her bear was called Panda. It has inspired her to build a few of the black and white Asian bears over the last few years.
“Yes, I loved that bear. It was classic.”
For Polano, who learned to show when she was a child, the ideal stuffed animal is extremely soft, 16 inches tall and portly.
“I started doing bears 18 years ago. A girlfriend gave me a kit. The results were adorable. My younger sister was going to be a grandmother and the boy is now exactly that old, so I know when it was.
“I built that one and then thought to myself ‘I could do this out of fur’.”
Her first experiment was not so pretty but she soon figured out how to do better.
“I’d been doing blanket buddies with satin and textures fabric and with my skills in quilting I started visualizing in 3D. There is depth, the arms, and articulation. The bears, rabbits, etc. are stuffed with polyester fill, new material of course, and some of the smaller ones also have some plastic pellets in them for weight to make them a little more real.”
Each stuffed animal can take up to 40 hours to make.
Adults as well as children collect stuffed animals, although many of Polano’s bears are commissioned works for a child or grandchild.
“In some families I’ve done one for every newborn. It becomes a tradition. Speaking of tradition I am using the same sewing machine I started on; it was my mother’s.
“It is all very time consuming, but the results are worth it. Noses, eyes, character, they do seem to have personalities. They appear to develop year after year,” says Polano.
Artists on Elgin carries many of Polano’s bears, blankets and other fabric creations.