The Quiet Room Bears, a series of demented teddy bears made up of fur, blood, and random body parts, are horror artist Lee Howard's wildly popular creations. The morbid and fascinating beasties range in price from $140.00 to $170.00 on Etsy. The disclaimer below each cuddly, macabre creature states: by purchasing a bear, you agree to accept all the nightmares, hallucinations, panic attacks and mania that will soon follow.
NYGCE: You're a pretty impressive painter. Have you studied the arts, or is it 100% natural ability?
LH: First of all, thank you! I have never actually gone to school for painting or any kind of art. I have just always kind of done it. There was a period where I lost interest, but luckily I found it, or maybe it found me, again, and I haven't been able to stop. Thankfully, I'm starting to get super busy with commissioned work. It's nice to know that enough people like my work to keep me as busy as I have been. I feel incredibly lucky.
NYGCE: Why the fascination with bears? And what gave you the inspiration to create the adorable, gory creations known as "Quiet Room Bears"?
LH: I actually created the first Quiet Room Bear ('session 1' - none of the Bears have 'names', just 'session numbers') about 10 or 11 years ago. My brother Bill, and his wife Joanne, were having a themed Halloween party (Rosemary's Baby Shower) and they had this little demon baby toy in a crib. The contest was 'whoever brings the best gift for the baby wins a prize' and I thought that every baby needs to own a teddy bear, so the Son of Satan needs a teddy bear that looks like a horrible, disturbing creation. It got such a great reaction, so I thought 'maybe I will make a couple more, just to see what I can do with this'.
I came up with a whole back story behind them. Once there was a mental institution, and the patients would be put into 'the Quiet Room' for a session, and when (or IF) they came out, they came out with a Bear (each one is individually numbered and one of a kind). All of this happens because the Quiet Room itself is sort of using the bears as a vessel of madness to spread as far and wide as possible. The inmates, while in the Quiet Room, will actually use pieces of themselves, teeth, skin, ears, hair and sew them INTO the Bears, so their madness becomes a part of it.
The Bears have had a fantastic, growing fan base. I was extremely lucky to find a fan of the bears in Mark Patton who played Jesse in Nightmare on Elm Street 2, the first horror movie I saw as a kid. It changed my life and made me a Freddy and horror junkie. Having Mark become a fan was beyond amazing, and we have since formed a great friendship. Last October, he invited me out to the Rock & Shock horror convention in Worcester, Massachusetts to be his Featured Artist and sit at his booth with him to display the Bears. They went over better than I could have ever hoped. Mark owns two Quiet Room Bears now, including one I made specifically for him which is inspired by Elm Street.
NYGCE: Tell us where we can find you in the coming months. What conventions will you be vending at and displaying your horror art?
LH: In 2013, I really want to do my absolute best and start doing more conventions. Up until Rock & Shock, I have only done small, local art shows. I live about 45 minutes outside of Toronto. After seeing how well the Quiet Room Bears went over at the conventions, I knew that was the next step for me to get better exposure. It's also great to be able to meet so many people and talk about my art. It's beyond fun for me. I love it.
NYGCE: How else do you express yourself artistically?
LH: Other than the Quiet Room Bears, I paint a lot. I mostly do portraiture. I also have an ongoing series of musicians that I admire whom I have been painting as well; David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and more. They have all sold almost as soon as I post the pictures on Facebook, which is awesome.
When I am not doing commissioned work for people and can do some stuff just for me, I usually tend to do darker, horror related art; horror movie scenes like Psycho, Pontypool, a lot of zombie-type stuff, and I also recently did a series of 14 different paintings of my own 'horror-ish' versions of Breakfast Cereal Characters.
I also really like making little short films, and have actually made little 'commercial' style videos for some of the Quiet Room Bears. Recently, I shot one short film of the process of 'how the Bears are made'. Warning: it involves blood. A little bit goes a long way. As much as I love bloody, splattery horror movies, I prefer films like The Exorcist, The Shining and Session 9. Really scary stuff that gets under your skin and into your brain. I also love writing, too, and I am currently working on a screenplay for the Quiet Room Bears, just called The Quiet Room, which I hope will be something very disturbing and original.
NYGCE: Do you get any push-back from the public about your macabre little friends?
LH: Luckily, I haven't had too many bad comments about the Bears, but I completely understand that they aren't everyone's cup of intestines. I have had some family tell me although they like that I do art, they don't like the art that I do. Even my Mom, who is super supportive, recently told me, "Maybe try some stuff WITHOUT blood. Try and expand." I told her that was like asking Stephen King to write a cook book.
I love painting people's pets and grandparents, because honestly, if I am painting, then I am happy... but for every couple of commissions I do, I feel like I just HAVE to do something like a Freddy Krueger, or even a Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation painting! I gotta be me! It's surprising to see people's faces in person when they look at the Bears... then up to me... then back at the bears... then back to me. And they usually say, "You... don't look... like the type of person who would make stuff... like this."
I've got fans from little kids to the elderly, so ya never know who you're going to connect with. I am just happy that I can.
NYGCE: When will you make your New York City debut?
LH: I actually have no clue when I will get to make my New York debut, but I can't wait until I get the chance! That is one of the number one spots where I really want to go, get out and meet some like-minded weirdos like myself. As well as the Quiet Room Bears do online, it's getting to meet the people and seeing their reactions that I love so much. I really can't wait until I get to do some travelling!