Teddy bear doctor gives new life to old, damaged toys
Ruth Hasman of Bearland Designs repairs vintage teddy bears and stuffies
Gail Olive places a basket filled with old teddy bears onto the floor. The bears have damaged fur, exposed stuffing, pins and snaps for eyes, and one is missing an arm.
“Hi Ruth, I’ve got you some more customers here — or should I say patients.”
Olive is visiting her neighbour Ruth Hasman, who happens to be a 'teddy bear doctor.'
Hasman began repairing bears after starting Bearland Designs with a friend over 20 years ago, making bears from old fur coats and selling wholesale supplies for making teddy bears.
Over the past few years however, her focus has been running a teddy bear hospital, mostly out of her home in Vancouver.
Restoring teddy bears from the early nineties
Hasman repairs everything from vintage bears that are several decades old to newer stuffies.
“I’ve done tigers, elephants, you name it,” said Hasman, who said she receives bears in need of repair from all over the U.S. and Canada.
“There are always stories with these bears,” Hasman said. I like talking to the [owners] and finding their stories, where they got them and what they know of the history of the bears.”
Hasman recently restored a 1908 Steiff bear for Olive, and among the next batch of bears Hasman will repair is a bear dating from 1921. Hasman said the time it takes to repair a bear varies wildly. The newer bears and stuffies she receives from local customers who need repairs done for their children only take a day or two.
The older bears can take a lot longer, especially when she has to hand wash the bears multiple times to restore them to their original colour.
“The actual reconstruction doesn’t take a long time,” Hasman said. “It’s the prep work. It takes a long time to find where to open it; I don’t want to damage it.”
Hasman said it can always be a surprise opening up a bear.
“I’ve found nylon stockings, the scrapings from the floor in the factor ... there was one bear that must have had six pairs of nylons in it, plus a toilet paper roll to hold the bear’s head up.”
Sometimes part of Hasman’s work is undoing the make-shift repairs someone else has done on the bear before her. When restoring the head of one bear, she discovered that someone had actually attached the head onto the bear’s bottom.
Restoring a local collector's tattered bears
Teddy bear collector Gail Olive said Hasman has done a marvellous job of restoring her bears. Olive said her love of collecting bears began around 20 years ago when she took a bear she’d received as a child to an expert and learned it was an authentic Steiff bear .
She said she “hasn’t done a nose count lately,” but has at least 100 bears in her collection.
She scours flea markets, second-hand and antique stores around North America to find her bears and also finds some on Ebay.
“I look around for bears that have an appealing look [and] a challenge to fix,” Olive said.
Olive discovered the teddy bear doctor a few years ago when she searched online for someone in North America who could repair her bears and was delighted to discover that that Hasman lived only four blocks from her house.
“I’m just happy that I found Ruth and that I have somebody to consult…because I always tend to go for the tattered old guy with the missing something or other.
“It’s always nice to know there’s more possibilities for that [bear]. That’s the thrill.”
Watch Ruth Hasman explain how she repairs teddy bears