Arts and Culture 2011

Amy Holtcamp

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Artist of the Week – Laura Ray

Posted 2/4/2012 5:19:00 PM

I first stumbled across Laura Ray at the Sustainable Midlands Holiday Celebration. My friend and I stopped in our tracks when we saw Laura’s table, which was filled with adorable little pogos.

What’s a pogo, you ask? Well, they are delightful felt handmade bears. They are smaller than your usual stuffed animal, and they also seem a little more sporting than your average plump, plush bear. Often equipped with their own tiny woodland-inspired sweaters and backpacks, they seem ready for a hike rather than merely a squeeze.

As Ray creates each pogo, they seem to take on their own, distinct personality. What’s more, she photographs the pogos in the woods near her home. In the pictures, they seem to inhabit their own, magical pogo world; pick one up and you have received an invitation to join them in their enchanted forest.

Q: What's your background? Have you always been an artist?
A:
I had a long career as a first grade teacher. Trying to get children to think creatively and see themselves as artists was one of my things. But working as an artist, even though both of my daughters are professional artists, never occurred to me. Pogos have been quite a surprise. Living in the woods is also an important part of my background. Pogo Forest is where pogos are born and my home in the woods is heaven to me.

Q: When did you start making Pogos? How did the idea for them come about?
A:
I started four years ago. My daughters remembered the silly animals that I made from remnants when they were children. Making something similar for an Etsy shop was their idea. Finding a way to combine my experiences with children, my love for the woods, and a way to create with sustainable materials has been serendipity.

Q: Why did you choose the name "Pogo"?
A:
I wanted a name that was short, memorable and suggested fun. The name “pogo” seemed evocative, reminding me of childhood days outdoors trying to master that impossible toy, the pogo stick.

Q: How are Pogos eco-friendly?
A:
I use repurposed wool sweaters to make them. They’re stuffed with alpaca wool from my neighbor’s farm.

Q: When we met at the Sustainable Midlands Holiday Celebration, you said that only about half of the people who buy pogos buy them for children - the rest buy them for themselves. What do you think it is about Pogos that makes them so appealing, even to adults?
A:
It’s hard to know, but I think it’s something about their imperfections. Imperfections give them personality. It surprises even me that no two are ever the same. Online, I think their photos and bits of story draw people to them. People who find them at arts and crafts shows seem to love the small size and feel of them. They tend to bring out the child in everyone.

Q: I love to ask our artists for their suggestions for places to visit in South Carolina. Your etsy shop says that you love imagining the far off places that your Pogos will visit with the children who love them. So let me ask you this - where in South Carolina do you think Pogos would most want to explore?
A:
Pogos are curious creatures and excellent travelers. But the forest holds a special place in their little hearts. I myself find it to be a healing place, especially when I get still and look closely. One spot in Columbia that totally surprised me when I found it was the River Trail and Woodlands Walk, between Riverbanks Gardens and Riverbanks Zoo. It’s usually remarked upon for it’s historical significance, but the beauty of the walk is striking too. It’s like a mini trip to the mountains. When you walk the hilly riverside trail, it feels like you’re on a mountain path. It’s hard to believe that you’re in the middle of Columbia. I could happily walk it every week. And definitely, stopping by to feed the giraffes on the way out would be a pogo thrill for sure.

See the pogos in their natural habitat (or choose a pogo to take along on your own adventures) by visiting Laura Ray’s etsy store.