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These are heady teddy days for a Seminole bearmaker

A nomination in the grueling (and lucrative) collectible bear world gives a hobbyist a warm and fuzzy feeling.

By JULIANNE WU, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 5, 2002


SEMINOLE -- He has beady little eyes and a sewn-on expression, but Joe Fishbear looks lovable just the same.

Standing about 15 inches, Joe sports a fishing vest with tiny pockets and a baseball cap. He carries a miniature wooden fishing pole.

"My son Joe gave me the idea," said creator Lin Muhrlin, 46, of Seminole, "because he said most teddy bears were "too frilly.' So I came up with something more masculine."

Now Joe Fishbear is a candidate for a Golden Teddy Award, which in the world of collectible teddy bears is tantamount to an Academy Award.

Mrs. Muhrlin -- her name sounds like Merlin -- started designing and crafting toy bears for adults (they have moving parts that may not be suitable for children) about two years ago. She attended a teddy bear show and craft classes with a friend and her son Joe, now 23.

"I used to make ceramic figurines and I've crocheted a lot of afghans," she said. "But my eyes got so bad, I had to switch hobbies."

Mrs. Muhrlin, who works in client services for a Clearwater financial institution, has created more than 50 bears for friends and relatives from six basic designs. Since March, she has been making bears to order -- from $60 for a 6-inch bear named Abergine to $350 for a 17-inch bear named Bearry Potter. Joe Fishbear sells for $175.

It takes about two weeks to make one bear, she said, depending on the size and accessories.

"What I like about it," said Mrs. Muhrlin, "is that my husband, Chris, and I can share tools and work on our hobbies together."

Chris Muhrlin ties flies for fishing.

The couple's son Joe, who is an artist and avid teddy bear collector, suggested that his mom submit a picture of Joe Fishbear for the annual Golden Teddy contest sponsored by Teddy Bear Review magazine.

On her first try, Mrs. Muhrlin's creation became one of five nominees in the category for individuals (as opposed to commercial manufacturers) for bears "Dressed/Accessorized, 12 inches and over."

In the July/August issue of the magazine, subscribers will find ballots to vote for their favorites. In August, the Muhrlins will travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the Golden Teddy Bear Award show and sale.

"I'm not exactly sure what you win," said Mrs. Muhrlin, "but I'm happy just to be nominated. The winners are kept a secret until the banquet."

Mrs. Muhrlin's bears are made of mohair, from goats, she said. "They are much softer than the plush, a synthetic fabric."

While she buys yards of mohair through the Internet, she purchases the poly-fiber fill locally at fabric stores. She also uses tiny glass pellets to fill in the feet and arms, along with the bear's backside.

"They sit and stand better that way," she said. All the joints are moveable.

She finds accessories in craft stores and shows, or she makes them. "Saturdays are usually my run-around days, looking for accessories," she said.

While she likes the idea of making the bears to sell and would like to open her own shop someday, Mrs. Muhrlin said she has mixed emotions when the little critters leave her house.

"The hardest thing is parting with these guys," she said. "I fall in love with them.

"I find it very relaxing to make these bears. No matter what happens at work, when I come home, these little guys are just sitting there, waiting for me to finish them."

On the other hand, she said, "I like to see the people's faces light up when they see the different bears."

To find out more about Mrs. Muhrlin's creations, go to her Web site: merlinspets.freeservers.com.

Millions of people collect teddy bears. According to the Ideal Toy Co.'s Web site and other Internet sources, this year happens to be the centennial for the teddy bear.

After a 1902 newspaper cartoon satirized a hunting expedition by then-President Theodore Roosevelt, in which the avid hunter refused to shoot a bear cub that was tied to a tree, Rose and Morris Michtom of Brooklyn, N.Y., fashioned a bear from cloth and put it in the window of their candy store.

After getting permission from Roosevelt, the Michtoms named their bear Teddy. The couple went on to form the Ideal Novelty & Toy Co. in 1903. It later became the Ideal Toy Co.

- Information from Times files used in this report.

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