After losing her job as a copywriter at a local newspaper, Janey O’Toole decided to finally do something for herself. After coming face-to-face with several large bears, she knew her calling would be to sell their teeth on Etsy. Her shop, Love, Life, and Bear Teeth, opened this fall to a wide reception.
“Everyone has a purpose in this world; something they uniquely provide that no one else can,” says O’Toole via Skype from her yurt. “And for me, that’s high quality, distressed bear teeth.”
O’Toole sells the teeth in all sizes and conditions. Canines, incisors, and molars are all available in a variety of types: fossilized, scavenged from a found bear carcass, or pulled from a freshly poached bear. “There’s nothing like holding them in the palm of your hand and feeling that raw bear power course through you,” says O’Toole.
“It’s dangerous work, but I love it. My boyfriend wishes I’d go back to candle-making, but when I come home, open my burlap tote bag, and lay out all the bear teeth I collected that day, I think, ‘Wow. I’m a bear tooth seller.’ And let me tell you: That feels pretty damn good.”
Aside from poaching, scavenging, and trading to acquire the teeth, O’Toole also distresses them in her home studio. She goes through a very rigorous process of sanding, staining with various household items, sometimes bleaching and re-staining, and finally placing under O’Toole’s pillow for no less than one night. “The last of the process is an integral part of my personal brand.”
“When I first set out into the woods I was hoping to find clarity. I never found it, but I did find purpose. I hope every time someone orders bear teeth from me, in their signature wrap of weathered maple leaves glued together with the sap of the tree it fell off, they too can find their own purpose.”
O’Toole won’t disclose exactly how she extracts the teeth from the bears, but she is adamant that the process is “all natural” and includes the name of the bear the tooth came from on a tiny scroll in each gift box. “All the bears get names – you can be receiving teeth from a brown bear named Mowry or a little cub named Sugar Pill.”
As of late Sunday, O’Toole was shut down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for poaching and trespassing. In a statement to the press, she declared, “Not everyone is okay with you being your best, happiest self. Keep your chin up and your light shining.”