Culture » Visual Arts

Charles Redding’s wasteland bears tell stories of destruction

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CHRISTINE REDDING
  • Christine Redding
A child’s toy tells the story of its owner. Every stain, tear and repair relates some detail of the use and the love the toy was subjected to. And it’s those little stories that Charles Redding tries to tell with his wasteland bears.

Redding’s a self-described props artisan — he designs more complex props for the stage, mainly Springs Ensemble Theatre productions. He built a seven-piece cathedral prop for SET’s 2016 production of The Elephant Man, which the main character assembled onstage over the course of the play, and a Tiny Tim-sized turkey for Theatreworks’ 2016 staging of A Christmas Carol
GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell

But when Redding — a longtime friend, by way of disclosure, from whom I’ve commissioned props in the past — isn’t making props for other people, he’s building them for sale under his Fire Thieves Studio brand, specializing in post-apocalyptic props and costuming.

That’s where his wasteland bears come in. They’re stuffed animals — teddy bears, predominantly — that he’s distressed and repaired to look apocalyptic. Some he melts with fire or a heat gun. Others get sliced and sewn back together. Most have replacement parts or missing eyes. And each of them tells not one, but three stories.
GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
“There’s the first story of what the bear was originally, manufactured in a factory, given to a child, maybe aged just a little bit, but gently and [lovingly],” he explains. “And then there’s the story of the destruction, the trauma, the tearing out stuffing, the ripping off eyes, the damage that happened to it. And the third story is taking that damaged, broken thing and instead of throwing it away, rebuilding it. Putting the stuffing back in, sewing the wound shut, putting new eyes on, giving it a new life, basically, so it’s not just a piece of garbage.”

Each bear has its own name and number on a wooden ear tag, plus a little card with a backstory on how the bear was found — kind of like a Beanie Baby crossed with a Cabbage Patch Kid, in that way. The back stories, like the damage and repair on the bears themselves, tell more about each bear’s previous owner than the bear itself — he’s not selling fantasy bears that wander around having adventures, he says. They’re each one of a kind, too.
GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
“The bears really connected with people,” and often in surprising ways, he says. At the Springs GalaxyFest convention this year, a child named Bruce bonded with and adopted a brutally tortured bear named Freebear. As he was petting what Redding describes as the bear’s one remaining soft spot, Bruce said “You’ve been blessed with a great gift.” Two hours later, Bruce returned with a colored pencil drawing of Freebear, which Redding keeps on his fridge.

For Redding, the wasteland bears also show a microcosm of the post-apocalypse setting: destruction and scars, but with rebuilding and rebirth emerging. For him, that’s the best part of the setting.



“It’s a way of telling stories you couldn’t tell in the real world without disregarding the real world and going full fantasy or sci-fi.”

Redding predominantly sells at conventions, though he exhibited at KaPow Comics & Coffee’s recent local artist showcase. He also does work on commission; visit his Facebook page for more information. 

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