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The World of Priscilla Hillman

An exclusive glimpse into the life and work of the beloved creator of Enesco Corporation's Cherished TeddiesÒ Collection by Susan K. Jones, authorized Enesco Cherished Teddies Spokesperson.

(This article was taken from Greenbook edition 1997)

When Priscilla Hillman was a child, she and her twin sister Greta spent long, happy hours drawing and painting at the kitchen table of their New England home. Their mother would cook and bake up a storm while the two little girls expressed their creativity on paper.

"My mother fed my stomach, and my father fed my soul," Priscilla remembers fondly. Her dad led the twins and their brother Rick on many an adventure during summers spent at Cape Cod. "We'd get up early to go fishing, then eat the fried fish for breakfast the next day," she recalls with a smile.

Over the past five years, Priscilla Hillman has become the toast of the collecting world. Her Cherished Teddies Collection-as well as her Calico KittensÒ , My Blushing BunniesÔ and Priscilla's Moust TalesÔ Collections-have won her a host of top awards, and her admirers brave long lines for a chance to meet the artist and have her sign their favorite figurines. Yet for all the accolades, Priscilla remains the same gentle person who relished that happy New England childhood. She says, "My greatest joys come from the simplest pleasures."

As one who has been privileged to visit Priscilla and her family at home, I can vouch for her sincerity. Along with her husband Norman and their son Glenn, Priscilla created a warm, serene and inviting haven centered around family and friends, the work she loves, and the natural world.

The Prelude to the Cherished Teddies Collection

Priscilla met her future husband when they were both students at the University of Rhode Island. A Botany major with a concentration in Marine Biology, Priscilla worked for three years at the U.S. Oceanographic Office before marrying Norman. As a young bride, Priscilla turned back to her first love: fine art. After Glenn was born in 1969, she continued to develop her skills and eventually emerged with a succesull career in book illustration. "I only took one art class in college and got a 'C'," Priscilla recalls with a chuckle. She believes that she is much better off as a self-taught artist, developing her own unique methods and techniques.

In the late 1980's, serious back problems forced Priscilla to spend months lying flat on a hard floor for convalescence. Rather than give in to depression, the artist decided to use this time as a period of reflection and creative growth. She surrounded herself with nostalgic items from her own family and research sources. She also watched wonderful old movies with her favorite women stars like Gene Tierney, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Esther Williams.

Before her illness, Priscilla had developed a number of animal characters for her books, but now a new image began to form in her mind. It was a concept for teddie bears, but not the usual smiling characters. These bears would look as if they had experience and wisdom of life. They'de be lovingly worn-not brand new, but the type of character you might expect to ind in Grandma's attic!

When her back was healed, Priscilla could hardly contain her excitement. She rushed to her desk and the teddie bear characters practically drew and painted themselves. When she had 36 images complete, she was ready to seek out a partner. She had been reading up on the collectibles market and decided to approach Enesco Corporation, which she considered "number one." "I thought I'd start at the top and then work down," Priscilla recalls. But she never had to "work down," because the folks at Enesco immediately sensed the special qualities of this artist's work. Thus in 1992, the Cherished Teddies Collection was born.

How Cherished Teddies Designs Are Created

Today Priscilla Hillman spends her work days in a beautiful, light and airy office on the third floor of her 1771-vintage colonial home. She loves this room because it offers light from East, South and West exposures. The office is decorated in Priscilla's own style. Her favorite color is white, and her favorite flowers are lilacs. She recently found special lilac wallpaper for the office, but she plans to add touches of paint in just the right shade of lilac once the paper is hung.

Priscilla works at a simple desk decorated with lilac and lavender accessories including a porcelain plate, lilac lamp and tea cup and saucer. The office is scented with special lilac and lavender room sprays the artist brings back from her annual trips to England. Another special attraction is the antique wind-up victrola Priscilla bought to play classis records by favorite artists like Al Jolson. She also has a modern CD player and enjoys listening to Vivaldi, Mozart and music from the 1920s and the 1930s while she works.

Each night before she goes to sleep, Priscilla "counts teddies instead of sheep." In other words, she "draws in her mind," visualizing the characters she'll be working on the next day. This stimulates het creative process, so that in the morning her work goes quickly and smoothly.

At one time, Priscilla used regular drawing paper, but now she prefers vellum: a heavy tracing paper. One special trick of hers is to turn over the vellum and look at her work in this reverse image. This helps her to see her mistakes. "If I look at the drawing itself after working on it for awhile, I'm too close to it to see any mistakes," she explains.

The artist starts with a rough sketch for each new character, and then works through three or four versions which becomes more and more tightly defined. This process allows Priscilla to change her mind and make enhancements as she goes along. Detail is important to her, and she likes to add unexpected elements and accessories to each piece. Once a drawing is complete, Priscilla photocopies it and uses the copy to add color. She uses colored pencils on pieces that will go to the sculptor. If the final piece will be used as "flat art," for a gift bag as an example, she will complete the piece in oils.

The Hillmans Enjoy Their Home and Garden

While Priscilla Hillman is a very prolific artist, she wisely ensures that she allows plenty of time for her family and other interests. This is especially true in summer, when the Hillman's beatiful garden lures her to spend many hours outdoors.

"I close this house for the garden," Priscilla confesses. She first saw the elegant white colonial in the winter when the grounds were covered with snow. When she returned in early spring, she couldn't resist. Already the gardens were wonderful-now, thanks to son Glenn's design and Glenn and Norman's hard work, they are magnificent!

Glenn, who majored in Architectural History at Vassar, designed the garden to be at its peak in spring. This is because the Hillmans are currently building a home at Nantucket, where they'll spend their summers. The garden also has a fall resurgence, since the Hillmans will be back their year-round home after Labor Day each year.

In addition to daisies, irises, peonies, day lilies, and many other perennials and bulbs, there is an impressive herb garden which the Hillmans planted to replace a seldom-used swimming pool. This area includes 11 varieties of mint, which are used to enhance Norman Hillman's special blend of iced tea. Also planted in the herb garden are onions, chives, sage, thyme, parsley, basil, golden oregano, medicinal herbs from Colonial times, and catnip for Clara, the neighborhood cat.

Clara and Priscilla enjoy quite s special ritual on summer mornings. First Priscilla rises about 5 a.m. or at first light, and spends some quiet time on her second-floor porch. Then she meets Clara on the first-floor porch, where Priscilla rocks in her favorite rocking chair and takes in all the sights, scents and sounds of the garden. Next, Priscilla and Clara embark on their morning stroll. The path always has to be the same, or else Clara becomes upset and insists that Priscilla get back in track!

Happy Memories Endear Cherished Teddies To Their Creator

While Priscilla Hillman has a difficult time singling out only a few Cherished Teddies as favorits, she does have a few special pieces and groupings that bring back memories od special people or events. Of the Down Strawberry Lane Collection, for example, she says, "I have my own Strawberry Lane!" The Hillmans have planted strawberries in their herb garden, which they are delighted to share with visitors when the luscious fruit is in the season.

The first Cherished Teddie drawing Priscilla ever did was of Jeremy with a toy. Perhaps her all-time favorite creation is het Mother Goose artwork with nursery rhyme characters which has not yet been produced as a figurine (will be produced in 1998), but has been introduced as a bas-relief plate. She also is personally fond of the musical piece with the little girl teddie bear on an ottoman in het mother's room. in addition, she likes the little sick teddie bear which can be given to cheer up someone who's not feeling well. And because of her wonderful childhood time at Cape Cod and het love of the sea, Priscilla is very fond of the By The Sea Collection. Of her International bears, she answers quickly that the favorite is "Bob," the American, "because I'm an American, and patriotic." Priscilla enjoys naming Cherished Teddies characters after collectors, with "Ella," "Bruno" and "Breanna" as several examples.

Priscilla truly does "cherish" all the "teddies" she creates, so much so that she had special lighted cabinets built in het favorite room of her home to hold every Cherished Teddies piece she has ever created. "When I get the first sample of each piece I put it in my cabinet," she explains. "Then when the production piece arrives, I put the sample away in a special drawer, and the actual piece goes in my cabinet."

The Cherished Teddies figurines are housed in Priscilla's "Baby Room," which holds a remarkable collection of family memorabilia and baby collectibles. There are prints by Bessie Pease Gutmann and other turn-of-the-century woman artists, antique baby accessories, Priscilla's childhood chest of drawers, her cradle, and a wonderful antique bassinet filled with plush Cherished Teddies. Priscilla's sister Greta has a "Baby Room" too and the twins remain remarkably close. They talk on the phone most every day.

A collector herself, Priscilla Hillman relates to those who seek out her Cherished Teddies figurines. She believes the joy of collecting is the "thrill of the hunt." She finds it very gratifying that her own brother and his wife are avid Cherished Teddies collectors. Most amazing of all to her is the fact that so may collectors want to meet her and have her sign their pieces. "I love signing and meeting collectors, and I appreciate then," she beams. But she's happy as well to return to her New England hideaway, where the garden, birds and Clara the cat beckon and Norman's fresh-brewed iced tea awaits!

(Karen K. Jones has been a collectibles writer and consultant for more than 23 years. She was the founding Executive Director of Collectors' Information Bureau. She is a personal friend of Cherished Teddies creator Priscilla Hillman, and an expert on Ms. Hillman's artwork.)

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© 1991-2002 Priscilla Hillman. CHERISHED TEDDIES™ are a registered trademark of Enesco Corporation.