At first glance, the connection between artist Leah Chamish’s two ventures, Murals by Leah and Touring Teddies, is not apparent. But there is common denominator that makes perfect sense. “My passion isn’t just for art, it’s for creating,” Chamish says. “Mostly, it’s to create for children, to make them happy.”
Chamish creates large scale murals for homes and schools with landscapes so vibrant you want to pick a blossom off the wall; Mediterranean ocean views so inviting you could walk out of the dining room into the water; inspiring Judaic scenes that make you feel like you’re in Israel, and children’s rooms so enchanting, you’ll wish you were a child again.
Touring Teddies are stuffed teddy bears with wanderlust that provide a unique gift experience for children. A child gets three weekly packages from Teddy with personalized letters, photos, and toy souvenirs from a country her furry friend appears to be traveling through. The fourth and final package is the teddy bear, home from his journey, to be scooped up in the child’s loving embrace. More than a toy, a Touring Teddy gift increases a child’s love for reading, learning, and imagination.
In 2003, Chamish was living in Los Angeles. One night, on the floor with her kids, reading a book about a bear separated from his owner who sent letters home, it occurred to her that kids don’t get mail anymore. “We had pen pals as kids. I wanted to do something to give my kids the feeling of opening a letter that came in the mail from someone who lives far away.” Her youngest was 5 years old at the time. Chamish spent the next two years researching and creating her first Touring Teddy. Chamish mailed letters to her daughter, written as though they came from the bear, telling her about the countries the bear visited. Then Touring Teddy came home to stay. Chamish’s delighted but puzzled daughter said, ‘Does this mean I don’t get any more mail?’” In that gratifying moment, Chamish knew she had succeeded.
Chamish wanted to give her nephew a birthday present, but he already had every toy imaginable. She made another Touring Teddy for him and included souvenirs with the letters. And then the requests from other mothers started coming in. “Kids are filled with curiosity,” Chamish says. “I try to make the letters interesting. I don’t want it to feel like a classroom lesson. I want kids to learn a thing or two and enjoy the experience. The parents have fun, too!”
The Touring Teddies also help children of all abilities develop language kills. “For children that experience difficulty with reading, the combined visual images and text made it fun.” Chamish explains. “Kids who already read can take pride in reading on their own and picking up the facts.
Touring Teddies has given Chamish a new identity: entrepreneur. She calculated the cost of supplies necessary to fill 100 orders to start, plus the requirements to promote her idea on Kickstarter, the crowd-funding website. She taught herself a whole new batch of skills along the way, like learning how to work with Photoshop and create a website. The successful campaign gave her the $8,000 she needed to launch the first Touring Teddies into the world.
Chamish’s grand designs start with a small sketch. She takes precise measurements before transferring her designs onto the wall by pencil. “Everything is in the plan,” Chamish says. “If you’re off by an inch or two, the whole design is off.” Once the pencil outline is on the wall, she can stand back and see if it looks correct. When satisfied, she uses latex, water based paints that wear well. “They look vibrant after years, like they were painted yesterday,” she says.
Chamish customizes her work to make it meaningful. “Before completing a scene for one client, I asked her if there is anything else in nature that she likes. She mentioned that she loves cardinals, so I incorporated them into the mural. Suddenly it became her scene; it had a personal touch.”
Chamish painted the mural for the Alisa Flatow wing of the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey (See Jewish Link October 7, 2014). Working with the school and the Flatow family, Chamish designed a mural showing biblical and contemporary women engaged in activities integral to Judaism. At the bottom there is a scene depicting RYNJ girls learning in their classroom.
“The family and the school administration had specific ideas for scenes they wanted portrayed, and wanted it to be an inspiration for the girls. I presented three different designs with those scenes incorporated and they chose the one they liked most and gave me free reign with the painting of the mural.” She hopes to do more Judaic murals for schools in the future.
Chamish is confident she can balance the demands of her two flourishing businesses. Her children are older now, and she can devote more time to her creations.
“I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and I have been blessed. My work has given my children the inspiration to go for what matters to them, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the family. I love the connection and joy that both my projects bring. Once I create a custom mural, you can enjoy it for years to come. And when you give a Touring Teddy, you help to create wonderful memories. That’s what I like most: bringing joy to others.”
By Bracha Schwartz