Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nataf Flesh and Clay

When I first started out as a collector of Hagen-Renakers and Breyers, I was told by non-hobbyists that the names of the figurines were meaningless. They said that companies gave random names to their products because it was a marketing strategy. Consumers would buy animal figurines if they had engaging or exotic names, because it gave the products appealing “character”. Dismissing fictional characters from literature, I didn’t have access to photos of the few real portrait horses to prove otherwise. Now, with the web, no one has such a quandary! In the hobby today, it is common knowledge that models are often styled as portraits of famous living (or deceased) horses.

Later, I inherited some vintage Arabian horse magazines through my barn job. There, in the magazines, were the horses I had seen as models only, but listed in real pedigrees. Further reading found photographs of their real life counterparts.

As time marches on, the chasm between the eternal model and the living memory of the real horse drifts and widens. Generations push forward, and we stop seeing these names in advertising pedigrees. The one place they linger, and moreover, appear in the forefront of Google searches, is in their model form! The product names of old HR molds were often the shortened versions of the real horses’ entire registered names. Lacking a registration number, it can be tricky tracking down the actual horse that inspired the model. A lot of registered horses have the same words in their names in various combinations.

No vintage model horse identity could be clearer than this stud ad, submitted by collector Karen Malcor-Chapman.

Here is Maureen’s "Nataf" from her estate auction. As I can't quite tell if this is bisque or Plasticarve from this image, I can't confirm if this is the "original" Original. That hind leg mend does look a wee bit "melty", though.

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Maureen Love sculpted portraits of several horses for James L. and Edna Nelson of Wagon Wheel Ranch in CA. She finished them in her own stoneware “Maureen Love Originals” style.

An example of the Maureen Love Originals stoneware Nataf, as shown in the ad above. This one is dated 1979. 

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

This 1975 Arabian Horse World magazine ad, from the collection of Karen Malcor-Chapman, shows more of Maureen's MLO models for the Nelsons, identified with their real portrait names.

If you’ve been following the previous Lane horse posts, note that in this ad, "Ibn Nataf" (the foal) has a base similar to the bases of Maureen Love’s sculptures for Lane Ceramics. This base is in her sweeping, non-specific-vegetation style. The later Made With Love "Ibn Nataf" ( = "son of Nataf") reissues had a much smaller, edited base.

You might recognize the horse and rider in the background as the Hagen-Renaker “Bedouin”. It is identified as Ferseyn in the ad, and that piece is basically a giant, mounted version of Hagen-Renaker’s “Ferseyn” (aka, Breyer’s former Classic Arabian Stallion). Such enlargements of designs are not unheard of, and that is a subject for another day. Compared to the white "Nataf" in stoneware next to him, he is very clear white, without rough texture. There is more than the 2.5” anticipated height difference between them, as the stoneware Nataf is 13” with the base. The ad’s “Ferseyn” is not glazed in the regular HR factory rose gray finish, but it may be a test or a custom glaze done in the factory’s underglazes. It just doesn't look like it was finished in Maureen’s stoneware glazes.

"Nataf" stoneware Maureen Love Originals date until at least 1979, as shown above. I’d guess that Maureen had to discontinue her stoneware version when Hagen-Renaker acquired the copyright from her in 1980 (year estimated to allow time to mold and test the initial release). This was one of the molds launched when HR purchased the Freeman-McFarlin ceramics plant in San Marcos, CA, and the Nataf retail display hangtag reflects this time of transition.

Scans courtesy Nancy Kelly.

Oddly enough, I had a difficult time finding the year of Nataf's passing, in my real horse research. All along, it was printed in his hangtag. It's another good example of the model world preserving history.

The HR version of "Nataf" is smoothed-out earthenware, not textured stoneware, and towers over most of their product line. He was mass-produced only in the San Marcos factory, from Spring of 1981 through Spring of 1986. The regular run is white gloss or matte, with varying gray shadings. HR collectors know him as mold # 11, while the real Arabian enthusiasts know him as 4835.

Photo courtesy Nancy Kelly. 
This crackle pattern is typical glaze fit of the San Marcos era ceramics. 
Note it is all in long lines, not tiny squares (like Monrovia), of crackle.

Photo by author. This fellow appears to be a Toasty, or close to it. 
His lips and eyes have pigment burn and he is yellow.

Photo courtesy Karen Malcor-Chapman.

With his large eye, inquisitive, reaching posture, and forward ears, the model appears to be leaning over a barrier, reaching for attention or a treat. The angle makes you think he’d be tippy, but he’s solid as a rock. The tail is swished to one side, one hind hoof is a toetip, as if he’s about to roll back on that hip and cavort off along the fenceline. He’s full of himself, and interested in what is in front of him, which makes the sculpture fulfill that important requirement for “life”: coveying two emotions at once. Human figure sculptors can do this by carving an emotion on each half of the face; with horses, it takes the entire body.

The style of the sculpture is like that of the reworked San Marcos molds of Amir, Zara, and Zilla, and the exclusively San Marcos Head-Up and –Down Ponies, Quarter Horse Mare, etc. The eyes are large, with wide carved edges to delineate them. The mane and tail, likewise, have deep and wide carving, with heavy or emphasized flooded undercuts. Maureen’s soft, rounded, low relief subtlety of the earlier decades is not present. These changes hold up well in repeated castings, such that even end-of-mold castings appear sharper than many Monrovia examples.

Photo courtesy Karen Malcor-Chapman.

Photos by author. Pigment burn-out in and around the eyes.

Some non-hobbyist Arabian fans are mistaken in the assumption that this model is by Gladys Brown Edwards. It slightly resembles a GBE photograph of the living Nataf, but the forelegs and tail are different (see link at end). To reiterate, this is a Maureen Love sculpture. I could not locate a portrait of Nataf in sculpture nor in flatwork by Gladys, but perhaps there is one floating out there.

Photo courtesy Karen Malcor-Chapman.

Photos by author.

The initials carved in the soles identify HR factory decorators. 
This hoof has "KS" and "T" with a high dash ( T is upside down in this aspect). 
Interestingly, Karen's Nataf has been decorated by KS, while Nancy's is by T and another unidentified letter or dash.

The flesh Nataf is not easy to find in text, nor in extant descendants. He sired 54 foals, but today, his direct tail-male line is broken. As told to me by Karen Malcor-Chapman, and through my own searching, he is best represented through his daughters.

Nataf is described by Karen, who knew the Nelsons and the living horse:

We visited Jimmy and his horses often (several times a year) probably as soon as I was walking and talking and begging for a pony.

“I do remember Nataf was much more wonderful than the chestnut stallion they had… nicer personality… I believe that he must have been a kind and honest horse - both of what I extrapolate from knowing the bloodlines and from the fact that we were allowed to pet him -in and out of his paddock - and that we were NOT allowed near the chestnut.

“I don't remember riding there much if at all, and I wasn't really aware that he was ‘famous’ as a parade or show horse, I don't remember seeing him ridden or exhibited... I do remember the parade tack - had to eventually get myself some! And Jimmy willed his Bohlin parade chaps to my neighbor.”

Photo courtesy Karen Malcor-Chapman.

Karen acquired Nataf’s working bit at the estate sale of Jimmie Nelson. She went with the aim to buy his collection of Maureen Love Originals (in the ad above) that she had admired as a child, but they had been removed from their place of honor on the mantle. The pieces were not in the sale. Do you know where they are?

In the early 1990's, I saw a test dapple gray matte HR "Nataf" compete in the model horse hobby's Southern California Show Circuit. He was a cold shade of gray, nearly greenish. At that time, he belonged to Debbie Uecker, and he was sold within the hobby. In the years since, I have lost track of his whereabouts. Apologies that no photo could be provided in this blog.

Photo courtesy Karen Malcor-Chapman.

Photo by author.

What little I can find on the meaning of his name suggests that “nataf” means a liquid drop, like water; or myrrh (or stacte); or a perfume, a flavor. It is also a unisex Hebrew name, according to one source, meaning “prophesy.” If you ask HR collectors how to pronounce his name, you may hear it three ways. I have heard hobbyists pronounce it “NAY-tiff” and “nuh-TAFF”. There is a hobby story that it means “native” and is pronounced that way, but this research indicates otherwise.

Karen said:
As to pronunciation, I, too have heard people (including people like Michael Bowling, who should know) call him ‘NAHtff’ or something like that - while I've always had it in my head as ‘NAYtaf’ - but I could be wrong. I did ask my neighbor a few years ago, but he said he didn't remember all the horses names from back then.”

Jimmie showed Nataf in Parade, in handsome Bohlin tack. Here is a stud ad that was published just a year before Nataf’s death in 1972. In this ad’s 1970 show photo, Nataf was 22 years old. It was a pleasure to find out about this forgotten horse. No matter how many years pass, or generations away, Nataf is forever memorialized in ceramics.

Scan by author.

If you would like to see more images of the real Nataf, visit this site. The permissions request was still pending at publishing time, so this link is the best I can do for now.

I wish to express gratitude to the kind collectors who shared gobs of photos and information on this topic. Thank you, Karen and Nancy! I can't begin to tell how much it means to keep the real horse's memory alive and learn new things about a ceramic. It was a wonderful treat, and I hope to do this again for more portrait horses.


Falzone, Nancy. Pers. Comm., 2/20/2011. Scan of letter reply fragment from Maxine Renaker, identifying carved initials in hoof soles as decorators' initials.

Kelly, Nancy. Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love: Hagen-Renaker and Beyond. Page 36. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2003.

Kelly, Nancy. Pers. Comm., 1/27 - 2/2/2012.

Malcor-Chapman, Karen. Pers. Comm., 1/25-27/2012.

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