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Teddy bear festival set for weekend

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By April Wright, Reporter

By APRIL WRIGHT

Staff

Steiff bear collectors and dealers from as far as Belgium, Germany, the West Coast and New England are expected to view, sell and buy Steiff product line, as well as antique and vintage bears, at the third annual Steiff on the Mountain Teddy Bear Festival this weekend in Galax.

The Saturday-Sunday event is hosted by Galax gift shop and Steiff teddy bear dealer Bearly A Memory. As the only major Steiff dealer in the area, it distributes Steiff bears to collectors all over the world.

With the teddy bear festival showroom in the Galax Recreation Center, this year's festival coincides with the first United Way Fall Family Festival in Felts Park in Galax in order to raise funds for the agency.

The German company invented the teddy bear more than a century ago. The company’s work, both new and antique, is prized by serious collectors of all things fluffy and plush.

What makes these bears special — some are worth thousands of dollars — is that they're all handmade and feature realistic details and incredibly soft mohair.

“We feature the best of the best vintage dealers,” said Cathy Steffes, who co-owns Bearly A Memory with her husband Chuck, both organizers of the event.

“The dealers are some of the greatest people you'll ever meet. It's just as much of a show as it is a gathering of friends.”

Some vendors also feature collectible dolls, vintage toys, books and more.

Visitors have the chance to meet Claire Steiff Meisel, granddaughter of Richard Steiff, who is credited with designing the Steiff Company's first toy bear.

They also can meet dealers, teddy bear artists, and teddy bear mystery writer John Lamb. Another special guest is the editor of Teddy Bear & Friends Magazine.

Although some collectible Steiff bears come with an expensive price tag, the Steffes hope to make the event family affordable. Bev White, a founding teddy bear artist, will sell take-home teddy bear kits that are similar in concept to Build-A-Bear-Workshop.

Purchasers get a kit containing the bear, stuffing, clothing, a heart and birth certificate, and build their own bear, kitten, panda or bunny for only $35.

A “teddy bear doctor” will be on site to repair broken or torn teddy bears.

This year's highlight is the one of a kind 15-foot Steiff Studio Ark, which the Steffes call a “sight to see.”

The ark was created by master Steiff artisans to mark the debut of Walt Disney's “Fantasia 2000.” It has traveled the globe and finally found its home in Galax after the Steffeses bought it from the Steiff company.

The ark is surrounded by pairs of giraffe, hippos, lions, elephants, kangaroos, ducks and many, many rabbits. Heading up the ark as Noah and Mrs. Noah are Donald and Daisy Duck.

Also being shown is the Steiff 125 Karat Bear that was established in 2005 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Steiff company.

The Karat Bear has eyes of diamonds, blue sapphire pupils, a gold mouth, nose, 24-karat gold ear tag, one ounce gold medallion and 24-karat gold woven into its soft mohair. Only 125 were made and each is worth thousands of dollars.

In fact, on eBay, this bear goes for as much as $41,000.

The Steffeses hope to help raise funds for rescue dogs. Experts with therapy and rescue dogs will be at the Galax Recreation Center during the event.

A basket of Rescue Dog Wine will be raffled off to support the efforts of rescue dogs. Last year, through the efforts of Bearly A Memory, nine rescue dogs were able to be purchased.

In support of community efforts, Twin County United Way will donate $5 to the agency for every Grayson bear that is sold.

“This is a good combination because it gives us a chance to set up together and raise money for good causes,” said Cathy Steffes.

More than $3,000 was raised last year for the Galax Education Foundation at Steiff on the Mountain.

A bear named Grayson in honor of Grayson County was produced exclusively for Bearly A Memory. Grayson has reddish brown mohair and proudly sits upon a Galax leaf made of three different colored layers of felt. Each bear comes with the story of the Galax leaf.

Meisel will autograph the Grayson bear at the festival. Grayson is a limited-edition collectors’ item. Only 750 Grayson bears were specially handcrafted.

The United Way Festival at Felts Park features games, crafts, food and activities from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will include all participating agencies of United Way, with food provided by West Galax Diner, Galax Elks Lodge and Bogey's restaurant.

(The campaign kickoff is a big event to make the community aware of United Way's agencies, the benefits of United Way and benefits of supporting the agency.)

A stage will be set up by Turman Log Homes for bluegrass, gospel and contemporary Christian music.

Pumpkin painting, face painting, a dunking booth and “how to” demonstrations are planned by businesses and organizations.

A lemonade stand will be set up by Rooftop of Virginia to raise funds for breast cancer awareness. The Red Cross will sell coffee and apple cider to raise money for hurricane disaster relief.

On Saturday afternoon, the non-profit Good Bears of the World will present Twin County United Way with 75 stuffed bears to be distributed within the community to those facing critical times.

For information about Good Bears of the World, see www.goodbearsoftheworld.org.

Steiff has donated items for the charity auction.

For information about Steiff on the Mountain or to make reservations, contact 238-0555 or bearlyamemory@yahoo.com. Also see www.bearlyamemory.com.

The showroom will be open at the Galax Recreation Center from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $3.

A Saturday dinner and charity auction for Twin County United Way, Good Bears and a general auction will be held from 6 p.m. to midnight at Blue Ridge Country Club in Galax. Live music is by bluegrass band No Speed Limit. Reservations required.

Cost is $25. Call Bearly A Memory.

Local artist Kathy Mendes will have teddy bear prints up for auction. They are displayed at Golden Gallery in downtown Galax.

A Friday night reception, in which visitors can meet dealers and collectors, will be held at Hampton Inn at 90 Farmers Market Road, Hillsville.

Hors d'oeuvres and beverages will be served from 6:30-9 p.m.

Reservations are required. Cost is $15. Call Bearly A Memory.