Sometimes the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not even for Muriel Fahrion, who has made her living in just that.
Fahrion, creator of the iconic Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake characters, put away her bright colors for a special reason: solidarity. While her fans who grew up with her patented happiness, friendship and caring were marching in streets across the country in Black Lives Matter protests, she joined them in her way — by creating a Black Lives Matter character for Care Bears and for Strawberry Shortcake in June. Two of the characters, Olivia and Archer, a girl and a boy, sport BLM T-shirts and appear on merchandise including shirts, bags and prints available on Fahrion’s website (but the BLM bears aren’t available because Fahrion doesn’t have the copyright to them).
“I wanted people to know it matters to me, that Black Lives Matter,” says Fahrion, who moved to Tulsa in 2016. “It felt big and important.” She had never created any sort of activism-type character piece before. The closest she came was the beloved Shortcake character, Orange Blossom. “When I did Orange Blossom back in 1980 or ’81, my sister had just adopted a biracial daughter and I thought, ‘You know, it’s about time we have a Black character in this line.’ Back in those days it didn’t really happen,” she says of Black characters in pop culture.
The characters raised $2,500 in three days for local nonprofit Reed Community Foundation, and Fahrion is still donating proceeds from Olivia and Archer items.
“I’m very proud of it. I feel like it helped people,” she says. “I got a note from a woman in London who is white and married to a Nigerian man, and she said her kids face ridicule every day. She was so excited to own pieces to help her kids feel proud about who they are. It was so meaningful … it spread the word, I think.”
The original drawings will be donated to OKPOP Museum so they can mark this time in history and be enjoyed by all.
But this isn’t the only project keeping her busy.
“There was a program called ‘Cameow Cats’ that I created and it was sold to a licenser, but they decided not to go forward with it … I just kind of tucked it away because it was good,” she says of the cat characters. “So, I just recently rediscovered it and decided to do a coloring book. I scanned in 80 images to rework and restore. I decided to go local, and so I went to Boomerang Printing. I’m now selling them online and doing OK with that.” Another 1 a.m. burst of inspiration had her designing masks to sell online.
Fahrion’s creative journey began as a greeting card artist for American Greetings in the ’70s and ’80s in Cleveland, Ohio. “We had the freedom to come up with new stuff in between new lines. My art director came to me and said, ‘What’s selling is rag dolls and red and pink and daisies,’ because (a new) Raggedy Ann had just come out. And that was my art direction,” Fahrion says of what later became Strawberry Shortcake. “I created two cute little rag doll girls and put strawberries (on them).” From the unveiling of Strawberry Shortcake in 1979 and Care Bears in 1985, she created a total of 32 Strawberry Shortcake characters and 16 Care Bear characters. The bear themes, she says, were based on best-selling card sentiments.
She says she never dreamed the characters would be as iconic as they turned out to be, “but it’s been a fun ride.” Fahrion says her life is packed with interesting moments and creative projects. “I’m always inspired by something, I’m always doing something,” she says. “There’s no stopping me.”