If you happened to be strolling through any mall, you may have passed by a Build-A-Bear Workshop; a brightly colored children’s wonderland where you are given the opportunity to build your very own stuffed animal friend; for a price of course. Much of the store’s interior is laced with an assortment of fuzzy critters for you to choose, as well as optional clothing and accessories for your new friend. Near the back sits the magical fluff machine, a bulbous yellow contraption that brings your new friend to life by means of filling its head full of cotton. For any child, the mysticism of this experience, the experience of ‘metaphorically’ bringing a friend to life, is one filled with excitement and wonder; planting the seed for a long-lasting relationship with their creation. It comes to a surprise to me then, when I happen to be scouring through the piles of stuffed animals at my local thrift store, how often I stumble upon these former friends; tossed away by the child for one reason or another.
Like many children, I grew up with a hodgepodge of stuffed animals at my feet; providing comfort on the darkest nights, and an open ear for my deepest secrets. Never one to judge my actions, stuffed animals became a stable foundation for me in a relatively unstable living environment. From an objective standpoint, stuffed animals are objects with a high functional capacity. They are used to console, to celebrate, to play, to enjoy. They are objects that embody experiences; past, present, and future; both good and bad. They are vessels that neither record nor document, yet when we see a stuffed animal we understand that it has been through an experience. At some point throughout its lifespan, it has felt the touch of human hands, the compassionate eyes of a child, or the tears of grief. It is these experiences that I am increasingly drawn to. When I browse over the piles of brightly colored fluff at thrift stores, I do not see cuddly critters; rather, I see records of time, past relationships, experiences that are familiar, yet not of my own doing.
Recently I have been acquiring these thrown away friends; partly out of sympathy, and partly out of a growing interest in documenting them. Like an unrecognizable language scribbled on a cave wall, I know not the journies they have been through, but I can feel them trying to be heard.
(WIP) Matthew Dangler, 1 in a Million, thrift store stuffed animals, 2018.