A beary special passion

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By Molly Haines

Nestled inside a quaint cabin on New Liberty-Sparta Road, 32-year-old Adam Bear sits in a chair with his pet dog Arfie. Bear’s extended family members sit across the room on an antique bed – a cousin named Rusty, a grandmother, affectionately referred to as “Grammie,” among others.
Adam and his descendants are not your typical family – they cannot speak, walk or embrace one another as an ordinary family might – but each bear was stuffed and sewn with love at the hands of their creator, 71-year-old Katie Gibson.
Gibson’s lifelong love affair with teddy bears began as a child in Oakdale, Calif., when at 4 years old she received a yellow bear named “Cuddles.”
As an adult, Gibson began collecting bears, but it wasn’t until years later in 1985 when she started her journey as a bear artist by creating Adam from a pattern at a sewing class in Riverbank, Calif.
“When I got that opportunity to make a bear I went for it,” Gibson said. “I made quite a few when I lived in California and when I went to Oregon I made quite a few. When I moved here, I put my bear making aside always thinking I would get back to it before too long. It only took me about 20 years.”
Born and raised in the farming community of Oakdale, Calif., Gibson eventually moved to Oregon with her former husband, who soon received a job offer on the east coast. She suggested the couple move to New Liberty, where her father Dick Roberts’ family resided.
Gibson later remarried to Jim Gibson, a native of the New Liberty area, where the couple still resides.
Since moving to Kentucky approximately 27 years ago, Gibson has held a variety of jobs and positions in and around Owen County, from advocacy work to managing the Dollar General in Carrollton. In March 2010, the Gibsons opened J&K Kountry Kollectibles, a general store once operated by residents like Durwood Mefford and Ben and Juanita Trusty.
“After Jim and I sold the store in 2011, I needed to stay here more to be with him,” Gibson explained. “I told Jim I wanted to get into bear making, and once I got on Facebook in 2009 and started checking out the internet, I found that bear making is one of the largest cottage industries worldwide.”
An ardent genealogist, Gibson combined her love of family research with her bear making, beginning with Adam, who is in search of his family. Today, Adam’s burgeoning family of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas and more are scattered across the United States, each bearing a tag with Gibson’s business name, Katie Bears & Kids.
Adam’s family tree is drawn out on a sheet of legal paper, which Gibson keeps at the ready, continuously adding to the line of descendants with each new creation.
Since 2011, Gibson said she’s created at least 100 bears, some taking up to 40 hours to complete.
“It has been a journey,” Gibson said. “(Adam) inspires me. The bears will always look a little bit alike for the simple reason they’re related. I don’t take any bear orders because we go off of some of our lists and we tie them all in by a little bit of looks here and there and shades of color.”
In the beginning, Gibson began creating her bears with inexpensive fabrics, experimenting with different eyes, plastic joints and adaptations from different patterns to come up with her unique style of bear, now made with wooden joints and faux furs.
“Bear makers do not, as a rule, take orders,” she said. “It’s like a painting, you’ve got to be inspired by something to paint it, and that’s what bear making is, and all bear makers will rarely take in a special order. I have, but I prefer not to because you need to let your creative juices flow.”
In addition to Adam’s descendants, Gibson also creates a University of Kentucky-themed bear and is currently working to create a University of Louisville bear. She also creates a pink bear in honor of breast cancer awareness, which she donates to a local citizen who has or is battling breast cancer each year. On occasion, Gibson will also perform bear repairs.
Gibson’s work will be showcased at the Owen County Arts Council’s Evening With the Artist event, from 7-9 p.m., Friday, at the Wild Goose Cafe, located at 159 W. Seminary St., Owenton.
“I’ve always had to work, but deep inside I’ve always had this passion for bears,” Gibson said. “Bears are my passion.”
Katie Bears & Kids is located at 930 New Liberty-Sparta Road, Sparta, KY 41086. Adam Bear’s story, along with photos of Gibson’s creations, can be found online at https://www.facebook.com/Adam-Bear-117730238411415.