Tara Logsdon feels a unique connection to inanimate objects. Teddy bears found face-down in thrift stores speak to her emotionally, and she rescues them and rehabs them, turning them into beautifully unique pieces of art with her DIE Bearmy teddy bear line. The artist makes one-of-a-kind stuffed animals for people around the world, and the bears have found their ways into the multimedia artist’s exhibitions. She’s made bears for celebrities, and is planning on creating one for actor Jeff Goldblum’s baby.
The 41-year-old Phoenix resident works as a production assistant for Martha + Mary, a venue development company with an arts focus, and at Jobot cafe in Phoenix on the weekends. You can see her bears in her upcoming art installation Bearial Ground at Frontal Lobe Community Space and Gallery in Phoenix February 6 through 20, and you can meet her at the opening reception this Friday, February 6 from 7 to 11 p.m.
Learn more about how Logsdon founded DIE Bearmy, and watch her name her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I grew up here and moved to Seattle to go to The Art Institute of Seattle. I graduated with a degree in multimedia and a minor in curation. From Seattle, I was moving to L.A. and had all my possessions stolen, and my insurance wouldn’t cover it, so I had to move back in with my parents. My son was 9 at the time, and he wanted to stay here because his grandparents were here, so we stayed. I ended up finding downtown Phoenix and moved into Holgas [artist living space].
I was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, and my parents moved out here when I was 5 years old. I went to Buckeye Union High School.
What’s your first memory of wanting to be an artist?
I don’t know. I just always was one and didn’t know anything different. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a jerk, but I’m just a creative person. I didn’t really know that I was until other people pointed it out to me, but I’ve always seen things and done things definitely in a different way than other people, and I always found a lot of enjoyment just from making things. It’s never been one specific type of art.
When I lived in Seattle, I owned a digital gallery after college where we only showed video, animation and projections. I got really into doing art with surveillance cameras and a lot of technology because that’s the field I was in. When I moved and had all my stuff stolen and found downtown Phoenix, I didn’t have any of my equipment, so I started painting again because that’s what I did in high school. I got pregnant when I was in high school, so I had to figure out a way to make money with my art. That’s what attracted me to the digital realm, because if I was a graphic designer, I could make money, where painters have a harder road that way.
After I lost my equipment, I returned to painting. I worked as a photo stylist, built displays for stores, curated spaces and art shows, assisted interior designers on homes, did freelance graphic design for all mediums, and worked as a color consultant. I do a little bit of everything when it comes to art.
How did DIE Bearmy get started?
I went to a family reunion in Nebraska in 2002 and was hanging out with my aunt who likes to restore antiques. We went to some yard sales, and I found a bear someone had made but hadn’t finished. I bought it, because I have a weird sympathy for things, even things that aren’t alive, and I felt sorry for it. I took it home and put a heart on it and gave it eyes and a mouth. People saw that bear and started saying they wanted one like it, so I kept making them.
At the time, I was doing photo styling, so I was at thrift stores all the time buying cool clothes for photo shoots, and I started noticing all the teddy bears at the thrift stores. Over time, it evolved to me wanting to push this message with these teddy bears about wastefulness and this excessive culture we live in, because people don’t even realize how much they waste. With a teddy bear, anyone can identify with that. I tell people, “This teddy bear has fibers in it that will outlive 47 generations of grizzly bears.” When I say that to people, their mouths just drop open, and they can’t believe that.
I’ll talk to people sometimes and say, “Who in this room would be comfortable owning slaves?” Of course, nobody raises their hand, but they don’t realize that even the teddy bears I’m rehabbing, a lot of those were made by modern-day slaves in other countries.
I think there’s such a weird disconnect in our mentality, that people don’t put those ideas together. They just keep consuming blindly. It’s time to slow down and really think about, “Where did this come from? What am I buying?”, and make a plan for it. If you get a pet tortoise, there’s a good chance it will outlive you, and you have to make a plan for what happens. People don’t think about objects in that way, but what if you had to? What’s the plan for all these objects after they die? I’m trying to change people’s mentality, and it’s a tough road, especially in our consumer culture.
The teddy bear makes it easier, because everyone can identify with it since everyone’s had one of them before. It’s a good way to start the conversation. It definitely didn’t start out that way, it was just my irrational sympathy for things, but I’m glad it has evolved that way.
It’s named DIE because it’s named after my grandmother, who was named Dorothy Elizabeth Icenogle. We’re German, so “DIE Bearmy” means “The Bearmy.” She was a very charitable person, and she and my grandfather are the reason we came to Arizona.
What’s the process like when you’re rehabbing the bears?
I go to Goodwill stores, and I don’t know how to explain it, but there are some bears I feel connected to, so I rescue them and take them home. First, I sterilize them for a fresh start. I look at the bear and sit with it and re-do the bear based on what I feel it needs. Some of them get blindfolds because they’ve been through a lot of trauma. Some of them get new hearts usually made from high-end material to make it clear this bear is only going to be accepting high-end love to deal with its abandonment issues.
Who are your typical customers?
As far as my customers, I get a lot of people who want bears for babies who have just been born. I have a huge Asian following. I had a show in Japan that was one of my first shows outside of Phoenix, and people in Japan love them.
I also have a friend who is an agent who has me make them for celebrities, because celebrities appreciate handmade stuff because they can buy whatever they want. My friend in L.A. just asked me to make a bear for [actor] Jeff Goldblum’s baby once it’s born. I’m really excited, because I think he’s one of the coolest actors.
This past Christmas, I had a woman approach me who had to give her baby up for adoption. She fell on hard times and came out of an abusive relationship and is fighting some different issues. She wanted to get her a bear to give her for Christmas to help her understand the process of adoption, and that was probably one of the most emotional bears I’ve ever had to make because I knew who it was going to and the message it had to convey. That one hit me really hard.
It’s really all over the board. It always seems like the bear is for someone who is very deliberate, though, and it’s going to someone where it’s going to be very cherished. That makes me really happy, because I feel like it’s working. These little soldiers of mine are going out into the world in a very deliberate way, and it shows, “Hey, here’s this bear that was left face-down in a thrift store, and now it’s going to be in Jeff Goldblum’s baby’s room.”
It’s the same when they’re featured in art galleries. They went from being totally abandoned to being featured under a spotlight and being treated as this very special thing. I think that could be true of every object in the world. Every thing that’s been discarded, if you just put some love and time and creativity into it, it can be revered as something good again, maybe something better than it started out as.
How many bears would you say you’ve made over the past 13 years?
It’s definitely at least 100 a year on average. Most are commissions. I will do a series for a shop, but I’ve kind of stepped away from that. I did a huge lot for Fab.com once because they approached me, and it was cool, but at the same time, I kind of like doing them on a custom basis.
I have a lot of people who have approached me to do them on a mass production scale, but to me, that kind of defeats the purpose. I try not to get too far ahead in my stock for that reason. Everyone is always pushing me to open a store, but I’d rather wait and custom-make every single one. I don’t charge extra to do that, because I know the owner is going to cherish it and love it, and that’s the point. It’s not the point to push them out the door or sell a bunch of bears. It’s the deliberateness I’m going for.
How much do the bears cost?
They go between $40 to $200, depending on how involved they get. I have people who approach me and say they really want something, and I can tell they don’t have a lot of money, so I’ll just give them a price. Then, I have other people who I’ll tell a price, and they end up paying me twice as much money than I ask because they say I’m not asking enough. It all sort of evens out. I’m like a true artist in that sense, that it’s not about the money or business part to me, which drives a lot of my friends crazy.
What can people expect from your Frontal Lobe Community Space and Gallery exhibit?
It’s going to be called Bearial Ground, and the idea is that it’s going to have practices in our society that need to die. Those ideas are going to be represented on memorial crosses like you see on the side of the road, things like racism and gender crucified to the crosses. There will be bears strapped to the crosses, because these are the issues that are our cross to bear as a society. It’s time to look at these ideas and realize that ideas are things we keep alive, and we can just as easily choose to kill them. At any moment, we can say, “This is over. This is done.”
In the center, there’s going to be a soul matrix, where you can go sit inside, meditate and find a connection to things, a space where you can reflect on some of these harmful ideals and ask yourself, “How do I stop this issue from perpetuating? How do I stop this from living?”
So many people are just silent if they don’t agree with stuff, and I think it’s time to change that. It’s time to start saying, “I’m going to kill that idea, and when I see something going down, I’m going to say something. I’m going to be active in extinguishing this behavior.” We can’t just sit silently and allow it to keep happening. The idea is you can go in and see these things, and when you leave, they’re almost like ruins. They’re gone. That’s an ancient civilization we don’t have to live in anymore, and we can just rise above it.
I feel grateful this whole bear thing has snowballed into this position where I can create things using the bears, drawing in an audience, and then share a more meaningful message or something that’s better. There’s probably not going to be one thing for sale, because that’s not what art is about to me. I don’t like going into shows where everything is for sale. I like exhibits that create a feeling in me, send a message to me, or make me feel something about myself. Those are my favorite exhibits, so that’s what I try to do.
What are your goals with DIE Bearmy?
My ultimate goal is to align myself with large companies that are creating mass amounts of waste. Right now, I use materials from Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags and Air Jordans and things like that. Those companies, when they cut out their bags, have all this side material that just gets wasted, and they burn it so people can’t use it, counterfeit it, or come across it. What I’d really love to be able to do is be an outlet for those companies, so they aren’t destroying all that waste, and so they can give me their waste and allow me to make bears.
Also, right now I give 10 percent to SOS Children’s Villages International, an independent nonprofit for abandoned children all over the world. They set up villages for children who are abandoned, much like the bears, and take care of them and educate them. To me, if I could align myself with these bigger companies, which are destroying their waste anyway, and make a special line of bears and sell them and be able to give an even bigger portion of anything I make to that charity, that would be my ultimate dream.
There are a lot of people I’d like to work with. I’d really like to get stuff from Gwen Stefani’s company L.A.M.B. My friend does custom shoes through his company Undefeated, where he works with companies like Nike, Adidas and Reebok, and he gets me waste of the Air Jordan material, which is why you see that on some of my bears. A lot of other people just donate their Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags to me because the corners are broken out, and they can’t use them anymore.
Instead of throwing away these really expensive purses, I can use them on the bears. I like being able to reuse that stuff, because a lot of people want those bags, but they can’t afford them, and they can definitely afford my bear.
What kinds of materials are you looking for donation-wise?
Mostly, it would be the old bags. I try to only use real bags, because counterfeit bags promote a lot of slave labor, and there are a lot of really bad associations with counterfeiting that really hurt people. That’s why I don’t use fake bags at all, but if anyone has designer bags that aren’t usable anymore, I’d love to have them donated to me, because then I can use them on the bears.
What are your goals with your art?
I’m a very political person, and I try very hard not to spew that out on people, because I get very upset about things, especially when it involves human, animal and earth rights. I’d like to be able to subtly push a political agenda that would encourage people to be world citizens and keep with the cause of being deliberate with things.
Spirituality is a very important part of my life, and I’d also like to put that in my art. It’s more of a subtle approach, because I don’t think anyone likes to be hit over the head with spirituality. I’m lucky the bears allow me to sneak that in there and make people aware of things without them being aware I’m doing that.
I’m really inspired by [deceased artist] Mike Kelley. I had a dream about him where he was young and came to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You have to keep this going.” I woke up and was like, “Who was that?” Later that day, my friend from L.A. sent me this flyer for the Mike Kelley retrospective and told me I had to go to this show in L.A. I looked at the flyer, and there was this face with all these stuffed animals, and he was the guy from my dream. I was like, “I have to go to L.A. to see this show.”
It’s really hard for me to find people to watch my dogs, so I hit up my friend, and was like, “I have to go to this.” She offered to watch my dogs for me, I drove out to L.A. and got there the very last day, the last two hours of the show. He used stuffed animals and a lot of crochet and felt banners that look like they’re from a church, a lot of stuff that is familiar to someone who has grown up in the ‘70s. It all really hit home for me, but the thing I noticed about his art is that it has really heavy messages. I almost felt like, “OK, it’s OK for me to get a little deeper with this.”
I capture people with the cutesy and the rehab, and it’s OK for me to push this deeper. That’s where I’m at right now, being able to express these really serious issues that bother my mind, but in a way that is friendly and approachable and kind of Mike Kelley-esque.
How would you characterize the Valley’s art scene?
I think the art scene here is great. I think it’s a very cooperative environment, and not a competitive environment, which is unique because if you go to larger cities, there’s a lot more competition, and people aren’t so willing to help you execute your ideas. I feel like people here are really excited and can all relate to each other in that way.
I have called on many of my friends in situations where I wasn’t able to execute things, and they just step right up and help me. I don’t know if it would be so helpful in other cities that way. I definitely have found that here. People don’t view you as a threat. We’re all kind of a team.
The thing that could improve is that I feel like Phoenix really lacks galleries representing artists. You’re kind of on your own. It just doesn’t work in the conventional way, where a gallery will establish itself and choose artists. I know Lisa Sette just moved to midtown Phoenix, and she works in that conventional way, and I was really glad to see that. There needs to be more of that.
The art scene in Phoenix needs to push over that hump, where people establish galleries and become more serious about representing people, so you don’t have to get represented in Scottsdale or Los Angeles or wherever. I think that would help legitimize our art scene a lot more and take care of our artists, so they can actually make a living off of it and not have to seek out a conventional job or representation in another city.
How do you hope your teddy bears impact viewers?
I just hope the bear is happy in his new home. That’s number one, because they got thrown away, and for whatever reason, I think they know it.
Two, I hope when people see it, wherever it’s living now, they say, “Oh, what is that?”, and it starts this conversation. “Oh, this girl, she rescued this bear and rehabbed it and does this.” Then, I think it will inspire people to think along the same lines, maybe not about a teddy bear, but about something else. Maybe the next time they need something for their home, they’ll think, “Well, I can just go to a thrift store like she did with that bear and re-do it in the same way.” I want to just change people’s mentalities and get people talking about it and create a dialogue, and empower them to be deliberate and reincarnate things with love into their own lives.
Learn about other Valley artists:
Learn more about painter John Schieffer here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about mixed media artist Christine Cassano here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about painter Hugo Medina here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about Steam Crow artist Daniel Davis here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about artist Sebastien Millon here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about sculpture artist Alexi DeVilliers here on Phoenix People.
Learn more about painter Nicole Royse here on Phoenix People.