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Written by Billie Shelton   
Sunday, 01 April 2007 00:00

Passionate artist Sarah Medina makes her livelihood by making believe.

Sarah Medina of Jellybelly BearsAs the late Christopher Reeve said, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” Australian teddy bear artist Sarah Medina chooses hope, even in the face of chronic health problems that leave the young woman housebound much of the time. After becoming ill with autoimmune problems at 17, Sarah turned to crafts to keep herself occupied while she was home.

Creative Urge

Medina, now 29, took up making bears after her mother—who had always encouraged her daughter’s interest in being creative—purchased a bear kit at a bookstore. Since she could not attend bear-making classes, the aspiring artist developed her skills through watching videos and by reading. She made her first bear in 1999; a few years and 40 bears later, she was ready to design her own patterns.


The burgeoning businesswoman chose to call her line Jellybelly Bears, named after an endearment for the family dog. Her bears—generally made with a pudgy tummy—are popular with collectors from all parts of the world. Many folks, like Fran Mishler, of Florida, purchase Jellybelly Bears from Medina’s website.


“I love Sarah’s choice of color, her unique designs, and her choices of unusual furs,” notes Mishler, who has collected Jellybelly Bears for two years now, and has purchased several flutter bears. “And I love the fact they are handmade by Sarah. It may sound crazy,” the 51-year-old collector continues, “but her bears have incredible personality. That’s another sign of a great bear.”

“These are my flutter bears,” Medina explains. “They will always hold a special place in my heart, as ‘Primrose,’ the pink ‘bearie,’ was the first fairy bear I designed, and I won the Best Miniature Award for her at the Adelaide bear show in 2004. I’ve enjoyed making a rainbow of different colors, and named them all with flower or plant names.”Little Things Mean a Lot

“I strive to create teddy bears of the highest quality,” Medina says of her work. “I hand sew all my bears using the best quality materials. All my bears are designed and created entirely by me, beginning with my originally designed patterns, right through to the finishing touches.”


It’s clear that Medina enjoys all aspects of making bears. However, she finds “the initial design ideas intriguing,” she comments, “as well as the finishing touches that give a unique personality to each bear. I love seeing their cute little faces when they are completed. The possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination.”


At the moment, the Australian artist prefers to do bears only in sizes of 5 to 10 inches, working with German mohair and alpaca, as well as quality synthetics. “I enjoy making a wide variety of bears from traditional to fantasy designs,” says the young, talented woman. “My fairies have been very popular, especially my little flutter bears and sleepy fairies. I love designing them and always have fun making the wings and adornments.”

Making Magic

Little “Lorella” is all tuckered out after a full day of enchantment! Measuring 6 inches from head to toe, the fatigued fairy is one of Medina’s “sleepy bearies.” Made from short pile white mohair, and boasting wings made of clay, “Lorella” sports a headpiece adorned with crystals. Priced at $124, the tiny enchantress can’t even keep her eyelids open!Fantasy, fairies, dragons and wizards have long fascinated Medina. “J.R.R. Tolkien has been my favorite author since I was 12 years old, and I love the storybooks by Shirley Barber,” she says. “I’m enchanted by the drawings of Cicely Mary Barker, too, so it was only natural that I combine these elements with my bears. It’s been so much fun for me.”


It’s fun for her collectors, too. “Her fantasy bears are so exquisite and have a definite magical air about them,” notes Hayley Justus, 39, a collector and a teddy bear artist from Australia, who first became acquainted with Jellybelly Bears and Sarah a year ago. “Sarah captures the essence of childhood and a form of escapism with her bears that offer a haven where we can transport ourselves back to precious times as children, where it was okay to believe!”

Surpassing Setbacks

Recently, in addition to her diabetes and arthritis, Medina was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, which has slowed her work with her Jellybelly Bears. When she feels fine, she can make a bear a week; when she doesn’t, it may only be a bear or two a month. Still, she makes and sells some 30 to 40 of her creations annually.


A trio of  “bearies” pause from their cavorting to pose for the camera. “Nalani,” pink, 11 inches, is designed to lie on her tummy, knees bent and feet in the air. “Saphira,” blue, 10 _ inches, is made to sit leaning forward, gleefully waiting to make mischief. Apricot-colored “Kira” is 7 inches, sitting. “I’ve made these bears to resemble a group of young bears at play and chatting about their magical day,” Medina shares.Medina, who is single, lives with her mother and sister in what she terms a peaceful area in the suburbs of South Australia, which is about 30 minutes from the beach. Her work area is two large rooms with plenty of space for all the furs and accessories for her bears. There she takes orders from her website and maintains her mailing list, which keeps collectors informed of her bears in the Jellybelly line.


Just as Sarah Medina is an inspiration as she copes with the limitations of chronic illness, Medina looks to the example of a well-known teddy bear artist from the past. “I’m inspired by the story of Margarete Steiff, who accomplished so much in her life, although she was disabled,” she says of the woman who made so many classic animals, despite having been wheelchair-bound after a bout with polio.


Like Steiff, from a century ago, Medina’s personal goal is to live a full and rewarding life despite being ill and having to live with health issues. In her business, she aims toward continuing her success and never losing her love and enjoyment of designing and creating bears.

A Brave Beginning, A Happy Ending

The world of bear collectors can only benefit from the drive, dedication, talent and positive attitude of this Aussie artist as she creates and sells her Jellybelly Bears. “I don’t think I will ever tire of designing and bringing my teddy bears to life,” she admits. “I find it such a rewarding and exciting craft. Creating bears has given me not only a pastime, but a purpose in my life, a home-based business and also friends that I have met through the bear community.”


Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.