HOT SPRINGS | Intricately constructed and irresistibly cute, the teddy bears that Violet “Vi” Inman of Hot Springs made by hand with her late-husband, Gene, range from five inches to about three feet in length and have movable arms, legs and heads.
From 1984 until Gene’s death, the Inmans worked together to create 300 bears with unique personalities.
Vi began making the bears as Christmas gifts for her grandchildren. “I like to give things I make,” she said. “I like bears, and I thought they liked bears.”
Starting from scratch, Vi looked for a book of instructions and found what she thought was a good one, she said. Then she looked for the supplies she needed. Over the years she purchased fabric of all sorts and also used fur coats, whether fake or real fur, that were given to her for making bears.
One bear she has in her apartment is made from a mouton fur coat, which is a short, thick, soft brown fur. Some bears are made of mohair or mink, and one of the most difficult bears was made by special request from a woman’s seal coat.
Vi made clothing for some of the bears or found baby clothing to fit them. When she made a bear for a friend who was a priest, she sewed a priest’s clerical outfit for the bear. When a nephew earned his Eagle Scout, she made a bear with an Eagle Scout uniform. She also made bears that were a bride and groom, a clown, a cowboy or an Uncle Sam, to name a few. Some bears were made into puppets with strings and wood to make them walk.
“I had lots of fun,” Vi said. “I really got inventive.”
Her husband put the metal joints in the bears. “It wasn’t easy for me to twist the metal pieces,” Vi said. That is why she does not make the bears anymore, although she said she misses making them. She and a friend finished the 300th bear after her husband’s passing.
“I’m itching to make bears again,” she said. “I enjoyed it so much.”
She dubbed all the bears with names starting with the letter “B.”“I looked at their faces, which seemed to make them come alive, and then decided what name they should have,” she said. “When I could not find any more ‘B’ names, I made them up.”
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A mohair bear is named “Belvidere.” Another bear is named “Bridget.” These bears are displayed in her living room at Pine Hills Retirement Community in Hot Springs. She has each bear documented in a journal.
The Inmans gave away most of their bears, but they also made some to fill special requests or took them to shows and sold them.
An area show Vi enjoyed was the Senior Citizens Craft Show in Rapid City. Everything in the show had to be handmade, she said. One of her customers bought a bear each year for her little girl. “That girl had become a teenager the last time I saw her,” Vi said.
With great-grandchildren coming along now, she regrets not having bears to give them but hopes the members of her family will pass on the bears they have.
“To me the bears are not just another toy, they’re special,” Vi said. “We gave them to family members and good friends who were interested in my bears, and I hope they keep their bears and pass them on to their children and grandchildren.”