Monday, September 20, 2010

A Short, Curly Tale

While in Ohio for the Pug dog national specialty show last week, we took a little time to visit the area antique malls. I was immediately drawn to a booth with vintage ceramics. As I walked in, the booth owner happened to be there, and she asked what I was looking for... I mentioned California pottery, and then we started talking HR. At the other end of her booth, she had displays of current HR miniatures and Specialties. We knew the same factory people, the factory history, and yet she was not active on the net nor in the collector community. It was a refreshing surprise to meet a fellow collector while traveling.

She said, "I believe that they are the best American [ceramics] for the the price."

I agree!

Now, I am in town for the country's largest Pug show... I have just met an HR fan from way back... and I look at the display to my right, and there are two matching HR Pug miniature variants! Of course, I brought them home to share a shelf with my regular ones. Here is the official HR site's current image of their dogs (what they should look like).

Model # A-3316 Mama Pug, sculpted by Kathleen Ellis
The lighter model would be called an "apricot fawn" in the Pug fancy. The factory term is "tan". This model was purchased the season the mold premiered, Spring 2000. This is what they should all look like.

The variant dark model, purchased in OH, would be called "smutty fawn" in the fancy. It is considered a fault in the breed; the clear fawn is a correct color. On the plus side, this one has plenty of contrast, so the face mask and mold details are visible.

Butts show the true slip color underneath. Both are poured in the tan slip.

Model # A-3317 Baby Pug, sculpted by Kathleen Ellis
The lighter one was purchased at the same time, from the same dealer, as the lighter Mama. The baby would be called just fawn (no apricot shading), with a little saddle of smutty shading on the back. It is not a true "trace" (dorsal stripe) because it is so wide. This saddle does occur in real Pugs. A distinct, narrow trace is one of the breed standard markings in fawns.

The darker variant puppy also appears to be poured in slighter darker batch of the tan slip, as it is even darker in slip color than its corresponding Mama. Tinted slip batches are known to vary in other HRs. The pencil numeral "5" on the cards of the darker ones is the dealer's mall booth number, not of factory significance.

In terms of horse collecting, these two variants are so starkly different that one would be called buckskin and the other a dark bay. I do not know if she has more variant Pugs in stock. I seem to have lost her personal business card on my travels, but this is the antique mall's contact information. Ask for Nancy of booth number 5.

Edit May 2013: I found Nancy's business card. Her business is "Echo's Past" Antiques and Collectibles, Nancy Ventker, shop phone (513) 554-1919.

And that is my short, curly Pug tale. Happy collecting!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Zaras

A few years ago, I was exhibiting at a local model horse show. I love shows because you can see sculptures up close and examine them beyond any photographic detail. A couple of feet from my table, I spied a very dark colored Hagen-Renaker large 9" Zara. I asked the owner if I could pick her up and take a closer look, which she allowed with a smile. Even though I make ceramic horses for a living, I don't assume I can just pick up anyone's stuff!

The owner admitted she was disappointed that the horse that she purchased as a San Marcos Gloss Palomino off eBay turned out to be so very dark and not at all palomino. The eBay seller was, in fact, a Renaker family member, selling many San Marcos pieces, but not very familiar with them.

Text from the original auction page: "This is a beautiful HR Designer's Workshop gloss-finish palomino ZARA horse, measuring 9" x 10 1/2". It's in pristine mint condition. My grandparents are Maxine and John Renaker, founders of Hagen-Renaker ceramics. I have pieces from the Spring line of Designer's Workshop (1983), made in San Marcos, CA. (I have no miniatures.) I will list a few more horses and farm animals in the coming months. Please feel free to write me with any questions at all."

The buyer was particularly fond of palomino models, and was hoping for just a slightly darker palomino variation, based on the auction images. In person, the piece was clearly a flaxen liver chestnut, with pale yellow mane and tail. Her markings also did not match other Palomino Zaras. Odder still, this was not the retooled 1980's mold of normal San Marcos Zaras. This was the old Monrovia/San Dimas mold. The clear overglaze was long-crackled like other San Marcos clear-overglazed horses I'd seen. An old mold, poured in brown slip, that fell in a San Marcos vat of gloss dipping glaze? Very few of the old mold Zaras were poured in the brown slip, and they are the very rare and desirable bays (aka, "browns", but have black mane/tail). I mentioned these issues to the owner, and she was surprised at just how many traits were odd.

The owner asked how I could tell if it was cast in the brown slip. I said the pour chill lines told me it was, but undeniable proof would be to scratch or sand through the black underglaze on the dry-footed bottom of a hoof. If the clay is dark brown when wetted, it was poured in brown slip. She later reported that she tried it, and it was in fact brown slip. All normal Palomino Zaras were poured in a pale yellow slip.

Her scratch test on a hoof, dry in this pic:

She posted this after our chat:
"Anyway, I wanted to see if anyone might have any
ideas on this Zara that I acquired from Alexis Brazel (crushtapes) last
fall. As many of you may have watched the eBay auctions where I bought her,
Alexis is the granddaughter of the Renaker's and was selling a lot of older
HR's that had been boxed and stored for 20 years direct from the San Marcos
factory shelves at the time.

This mare is a chocolate brown and has a cream colored mane, tail, blaze,
and sock. She has tri-colored eyes. According to another collector, she is
has Monrovia mold detail with a different era paintjob. I know nothing about
the mold differences between each Monrovia and the others, but was told this
mare has the upper eyelid detail and the small neck wrinkles seen in the
Monrovia pieces and not the later pieces. From the looks on her belly, she
has a filled pour hole."

A little later, I was working on a portrait of her real horse. A happy ending for everyone: she got a palomino she wanted, and the "definitely not palomino" Zara came to live with me. I have seen a few HR tests in my time, and it became clear that this was a test. Even the initial signature of the test decorator for San Marcos was there, carved into the foot.

The scenario would have made sense; potters waste nothing. Got a leftover body from the San Dimas era? Just opening a new factory division in San Marcos? Want a new color to run on the previously issued 9" family? Molds take time to retool, pour, and dry. While you wait, test with what you have on hand, start taking orders, and get to work!

I later purchased a palomino regular run Zara, that I am told has markers of the earliest ones. Compared side-by-side, they are vastly different. Could this really be the test for the palomino run? Was it older than 1983? It just didn't fit that last piece of the puzzle.

Showing tri-eyes detail on both, mold differences. Both are from San Marcos.

In December of 2008, I hosted an all-ceramic horse competition at my studio. Two exhibitors arrived a little early to unload their show boxes. They took a look at my collection, and naturally, horses started coming out. Jo Ellen Arnold pulled an amazingly detailed old Zara out of her tote. This piece was poured in brown slip, decorated liver chestnut, and was at one time photographed in the Hagen-Renaker factory archives. The best date I can find for a brown slip Zara is 1968. Collectors thus consider it a factory test, although it appears to have been decorated by the original sculptor, Maureen Love. Excited, I pulled my weird Zara out of the cabinet, and comparisons began. They had the same white markings! The liver sisters were reunited, although separated in glaze age by decades.

Photos by Keith Bean:

The 1983 (going by the auction description) gloss has typical San Marcos gloss long crackle. The 1968(?) test is old matte glaze.

Purely speculation, but it may be that Jim saw the original Zara in the archives between 1980-1983 (it went into private collector hands around 1989) and styled his own San Marcos test after it. The San Marcos liver chestnut was not decorated by Maureen. It has overall less attention to decoration detail, overspray on mane/tail, little to no body shading, and it has the SM factory test decorator's mark. As no other liver chestnut Zaras are known, this color clearly was not selected for production.

Arnold, Jo Ellen. Personal communication.
Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Guide. Third Edition. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Mystery Horses of Maureen Love

For several years, I heard about two OF horse ceramics, sculpted by Maureen, that were not produced by herself nor by Hagen-Renaker. No one could identify the age nor the manufacturer, and no one had photos (this is long before camera mobile phones). Until the advent of the internet, sightings were related from collector to collector, like spooky campfire stories. They were the "cryptomolds". In the past six months, I have learned a lot about them. It's not just two sculptures, but four, plus there are mold variations of them all. Note: I am posting these links and pix in the interest of collector education, as I am not affiliated with any of these sources and do not have ads on this blog.

Lane and Company (1950-early sixties)/ Sunkist Ceramics (sold in 1963, reverted to original name by 1965) / Lane Ceramics (a division of Condecor, trademark died in 1974)

Please note that this is not the Lane furniture company. It is best known among collectors for its TV lamps and functional pottery. This company changed names several times in its short run. It also may have changed locations within Los Angeles County, from Van Nuys to Los Angeles, and back to Van Nuys. They are thought to have been both producer and distributor of other factories' items. This might explain why the same molds reappear from the alleged Mexican factory.

This is the base of their first horse TV lamp, not sculpted by Maureen, which is very similar to the inscriptions on the bases of these horse statues.

Maureen was laid off from Hagen-Renaker during their 1960-1962 hiatus, and it is known that she free-lanced. The Running Horse Mold was identified by her as one of her free-lance sculptures, although it is possible she did sculptures for Lane and Company before and after this period. Monrovia and Van Nuys are a straight one-hour drive down the freeway from each other; it would not have been a big deal to transport large originals or waste molds to the factory.

The smallest of these models are "Traditional" size.

Running Horse, OF Lane and Company Ceramics
base underside inscription: (c) Calif. USA A-9
CA factory size not known, approx. 8 3/4" x 12" long
Colors: white clay with purple airbrush shading, green airbrushed grass, and overglaze gold hand painting on eyes, nostrils, body sections, hooves, and accenting grass swathes. Also came in same deco but with charcoal gray body shading on white clay. The third known color is plain solid white with no detail painting, just clear iridescent overglaze.

White iridescent from Goodwill Online

Base of white iridescent

Charcoal gray shaded version in Karen Grimm's collection, scroll halfway down to numbers 18 and 19.

Facing Right Rearing Extra Branch Mold, OF Lane and Company Ceramics
base underside inscription: (c) H-1 Calif. USA
13" tall (Thoroughbred type)
Colors: Yellow mustard translucent glaze with overglaze gold hand painting on eyes, nostrils, mane, tail, body sections, hooves, and accenting grass swathes. There is no green on the grass base, the art glaze covers all.

Base of this OF mold variant and a view of the extra branch between the forelegs

Shown with the "Leg Out" Rearing hobby mold, to emphasize the disparaging sizes and that they are NOT a true pair.

Head breed type

Facing Right Rearing Modified Mold, OF Lane and Company Ceramics
base underside inscription: (c) H-1 Calif. USA
13" tall (Thoroughbred type)
Only color seen so far is a deep auburn translucent art glaze with same gold deco as above. There is no green on the grass base, the art glaze covers all.

Example in Karen Grimm's collection, scroll halfway down:

Facing Left Rearing (I call it the "Leg Out" rearing mold), OF Lane and Company Ceramics
base underside inscription: CALIF USA 239
14 1/4" tall x 14" long (Arabian type)
Only color known so far is white clay with purple airbrush shading, green airbrushed grass, and overglaze gold hand painting on eyes, nostrils, body sections, hooves, and accenting grass swathes.

Link to a Google image:

It is not beyond reason that all of the Lane molds could be ordered in any of those colourways. Let's keep an eye out for the unexpected!

"Mexican" factory OFs
It is my speculation that these may have been distributed by Lane, based on their own molds, but made less expensively in Mexico to remain competitive with the Japanese ceramics flooding into the market at the time. No Lane stickers or boxes have been associated with these horses to date. One collector related a sighting with a "Lane" hangtag, for sale at a Lane Furniture retailer. The name is purely coincidental. Horses glazed by this factory tended to have pendulous excess glaze on their chins and bellies.
Edit 1/24/11: These are actually Lane OF's, see update here.

Running Horse
8 3/4" x 12" long
No inscription, a 5/8" rind or lip underneath, hollow base

Color: white claybody with yellow, rust, and dark brown airbrush shading, no detail painting, and green shading on grass base. Glossy.

Yellow and dark brown shading (personal collection)

Rusty shading (photo courtesy Simrat Khalsa)

Facing Left Rearing (Leg Out) : no inscription, a 5/8" rind or lip underneath, hollow base that has been sculpted taller and with more intricate foliage; the leg is molded in place; head is add-on; 17" tall.

Color: glossy translucent mahogany brown, no detail painting
Shown here with the hobby mold variant to show differences.

Hobby molds
These were plaster molds any consumer could purchase and use to pour their own ceramics to decorate at home. As such, these mold variants can be found in any finish, as glazed, cold-painted, or white bisque. Other than unfinished white bisque examples, these would all be classified as "Customs" in the model horse hobby.

Running Horse Hobby Mold has more grass, sculpted in a solid mass between hind legs, up to groin. No inscription, just a 5/8" rind or lip underneath, hollow base. From Goodwill Online:

Facing Left Rearing (Leg Out)
No inscription, a 5/8" rind or lip underneath, hollow base (shorter than "Mexico's") and its left hind leg is an add-on at the hip; head is molded solid with rest of figure; 16" tall, shown above with Mexico OF brown variant.

Large Facing Right Rearing : no inscription, a 5/8" rind or lip underneath, hollow base
25" tall (Morgan type)
This was once thought to be a mechanical enlargement of the 13" tall Rearing Right Horse, but it is a completely different sculpture. The breed type is different, the head is a different sculpture, as is the angle of neck, stifle structure (still correct), and the grass covers more area to counterbalance its heavy forehand. Everything about it is Maureen-esque, and her signature Morgan face is obvious.

Although I did not glaze this one, I identified the glaze as a commercial hobby glaze, Duncan's Antique Brass Art Glaze #SY553. It has the same crawl and detail-obliterating traits.

Shown here with the Running Horse OF and the HR OF Draft in harness for size reference.

Differences in the foliage/grass of the Facing Right Rearing sculptures

Values on these models have been equally hard to pinpoint. My personal experience has been in the $9-14 range for the regular sized OFs. I heard just this week of collectors of Maureen's work paying between $37-80 each for the smaller molds at auction. The rarest models are the older factory finished ones, with the Lane California solid white iridescent having the greatest appeal for collectors with a leaning for decorators. The most naturalistic ones are the shaded "Mexico" running horses, and I see these the most frequently of all of the models (OF and CM combined). Of the CM molds, the large rearing horse is considered the rarest, simply because it required an experienced hobbyist to cast, assemble, and handle it. Then, it needed a very large kiln to fire to maturity! I have only seen one other example, and it was a cold-painted faux woodgrain finish.

If you have photos of variations on these models and would like to share the data, please feel free to email me. I plan to write a follow-up post on this topic, as information has been turning up at a remarkable rate.

Personally, I would like to acquire any of these vintage hobby molds to do my own castings and custom glazing. I can make it worth someone's time in tracking down these molds by trading for finished horses!

Kelly, Nancy. Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love: Hagen-Renaker and Beyond. Page 8. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2003.
Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Guide. Third Edition. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

Let's Get Started

I have been collecting ceramic animals for most of my life. My first pieces were Hagen-Renaker miniatures in the early 1980's. I was in elementary school, and yet I played with them without destroying them. The only casualties were from an earthquake. In 1986, my entire HR collection was lost in the family household move. I picked up a piece or two each year into my teens, but it was not until meeting one of the HR Handbook authors in 1989 that my interest was reignited. By 1993, I had a good HR miniatures collection again, and my very first DW pieces, thanks to Joan Berkwitz. One of those two "seed" DWs I later had the opportunity to pay it forward and give to another beginning collector, Addi Velasquez.

I became a ceramist because I loved these artworks so much. Then, as a result of being a ceramist, my collecting theme shifted to pieces that show the production development process. Ask any local collector who has handed me a ceramic horse (vintage or new) and they'll say I start babbling off observations about how the piece was made. These are usually things they never even detected themselves, even flaws they wish I had not pointed out! Tool marks, thumbprints, belly plugs, and glaze irregularities comprise a lost language. I am so excited by these things that I can't keep it in, it comes rushing forth. I want other collectors to know what makes their piece special. Real human hands made these items. In an era when figurines are now grown in wax from a computer file, these handmade ceramics are tangible connections to a truly human art tradition. When I see certain pieces in antique stores, I think of the unidentified hands who made them, or a funny memory of someone I actually knew who worked on that edition. There is a huge invisible web between ceramics, and I will use this Web to communicate their stories to other collectors. I believe that in reading anecdotes or new data about what you collect or see at model horse shows, the more enjoyment you will have in your own collection. Knowledge is more than power, it is joy.