Friday, October 26, 2018

Can't Miss Steiff and Teddy Bear Fun In Billund, Denmark!


What could be more exciting and interesting than an ENTIRE museum dedicated to Teddy bears? How about one located in a gorgeous and historical villa in Denmark? Just the thought of such a destination gets most cub collectors scrambling to find their passports! Steiffgal recently had the pleasure of speaking to Laura Beatrice Ricks, who has the dream job of being the General Manager of the Teddy Bear Art Museum in Billund, Denmark. This museum (pictured above) opened in May of 2018 and is already capturing the eyes - and the hearts - of Teddy bear enthusiasts worldwide. Come learn what she had to say about this destination that needs to be on the to-do list of every bear fan. 

Steiffgal: Thank you for taking the time to speak with the MySteiffLife readers today. Could you please tell us why you decided to create a museum based on Teddy bears and art.

Laura Beatrice Ricks: For us, it was important to show that a Teddy bear is not just a toy, but a work of art. Our name "Teddy Bear Art Museum" is to emphasize this. Just as a blank canvas can become a painter’s masterpiece so too can a length of mohair and some sewing thread become a one of a kind Teddy bear. Every one of the Museum’s 1,000 exhibits has a special expression and look, backing up the idea of art.

Steiffgal: Tell us the relationship between the museum and Lego.

LBR: Teddy Bear Art Museum is owned by Gunhild Kirk Johansen and her husband, Mogens. Gunhild was a child in the house where the Museum is now situated, built in 1959. Gunhild’s grandfather, Ole Kirk Christiansen, founded LEGO. Her father, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, made LEGO the success it is today. Gunhild’s younger brother, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, continued the good work and is Chairman of the Board at LEGO. The small town of Billund would be nothing without this entrepreneurial and hard-working family who have made it the Capital of Children and a wonderful place to visit, particularly with children. Although this house was previously a private home, it is very spacious as in the early days of LEGO Billund did not have any hotels which meant that guests were able to stay the night in the family villa.

Steiffgal: Tell us about your typical visitors.

LBR: The typical visitor is a woman from 50 years old and up. Luckily, we also have many children with their parents or grandchildren. Billund has a large international airport (Denmark’s 2nd biggest airport after Copenhagen – and again, thanks to the LEGO family who founded the airport). This means we have many visitors from abroad.

Steiffgal: Many museums now include significant activities and attractions specifically for children. Is this true at your museum, and if so, what are you doing for children?

LBR: We consider children to be a very important part of a museum. If children do not visit museums then they may not come as adults either. Our child-focused programing and activities include:

1. A number of large, cuddly Teddy bears for children to play with dotted around the Museum.

2. Several different versions of treasure hunts for children, and the children do not need to be able to read to enjoy these adventures. 

3. A wall display with a magnetic, dress-up Muffy VanderBear. 

4. A table in our Teddy Bear CafĂ© with drawing materials and bear books, Paddington, as well as Muffy bears they can dress. 

5. During school holidays, we arrange Teddy bear-related courses for children. These are designed for children aged 7 and up and include painting stones with Teddy bears, sewing felt Teddy bears, and making brooches of silk clay, among others. 

6. We have 30 minute “pop in“ workshops where a child visiting the Museum can make a small project. 

7. We have had one “Night at the Teddy Bear Museum” event when 12 children spent the night in the VanderBear exhibition. We made Teddy bear shaped pizzas and craft projects and then slept with 1,000 Teddy bears. The children all brought their own Teddy bears to the event. It was a huge success. 

Steiffgal: Where do most of the bears on display come from? Were they part of the owner’s original collection, or were they purchased specifically for the museum, or something else?

LBR: We have two main permanent collection from approximately 14 countries: Johnny and Gitte Pinholt Thorsen’s eclectic collection of one of a kind Teddy bears and the Museum’s owner, Gunhild Kirk Johansen’s collection of the VanderBear family and one of a kind Teddy bears. The collections predate the Museum as private collections.

Steiffgal: How is it decided what specific bears will be on exhibit in the museum?

LBR: Gitte Thorsen, the Museum’s Design Master and Curator, selects the Teddy bears. We have bears produced by commercial makers, bears made by artists, and of course, the original and historic Alfonzo from Steiff - the Prince of our museum!

Steiffgal: How often do you create special exhibits, and how often do you update your exhibits?  

LBR: The first special exhibition is on display from our opening in May until December 2018. Our guest exhibition with Paddington is also on display from May-December 2018. We are closed in January and re-open in February, 2019 with a new exhibition on Steiff.

Steiffgal: Tell us more about this upcoming special exhibition on Steiff bears. Will you have a party to launch this new display? 


LBR: It is an exclusive Steiff exhibition with items from Steiff’s archives in Giengen, Germany and includes bears and animals. The Museum’s oldest bear is Peachy, a Steiff bear from 1905-1907. He is pictured here on the left. Steiff is kindly lending the Museum articles from their collection. And yes, the Museum will hold a party to open the new exhibition!

Steiffgal: If an artist has a bear that they would like the museum to show or have, or if a collector has a very unusual bear they would like the museum to show or have, does the museum take these sorts of offers?  

LBR: We have received a number of donations of special Teddy bears. We regularly purchase artist bears. We also purchased Steiff’s Alfonzo from Teddy Bears of Witney after Ian Pout contacted us about this. He was keen to provide Alfonzo with a good new home where he would be on display rather than disappearing in a private collection. As the mother of Alfonzo’s original owner, Princess Xenia, was Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark, the world-famous Teddy bear already had a Danish connection. She is pictured here on the left.

Steiffgal: And finally, if collectors are not able to make the journey to your museum, but want to visit or follow it virtually, how can they do that?


LBR: We have a virtual link around the Museum kindly filmed by our friend and associate Sebastian Marqvardt. Please click on this link to view this tour.
  You can also learn more on our website Homepage, Facebook and Instagram pages, and our Newsletter.

Steiffgal: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing all of this exciting news and information about the museum. Please keep us posted on the February, 2019 Steiff exhibit - we'd love to see photos from it and learn about some of the featured Steiff highlights!

Have a question about one of your Steiff treasures? Let's talk! Click here to learn more! 

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