Friday, May 4, 2012

A Violette By Any Other Name... Is Called Crusader

It's time to settle in with a cup of tea, and indulge in this long Love letter to two of the ceramic horse world's most beloved sculptures: "Sespe Violette" and "Crusader". 

As discussed in the prior post about Nataf, many of the Hagen-Renaker models were styled after real horses. Hagen-Renaker pottery's Sespe Violette model was a portrait of a real horse, living and working in Southern California. Maureen Love probably sculpted her in 1953, since the first examples were released in Spring of 1954. 

Original HR Sales Sheet for SV, Fall 1954

The real Sespe Violette was foaled on May 11th, 1944, and bears the Belgian Draft Horse Corp. of America's registration #M32116. She was in fact, a mare, despite her rather masculine physical and tacked appearance. As collector Cynthia Perry points out, "I always found it rather odd that 'Sespe' was tricked out in a stallion surcingle, when generally draft mares are shown in a halter only!"

Maureen herself glazed this casting of Sespe Violette, but it is interesting to note that the registered markings for the real SV are quite different.

Photo courtesy collector K. Bean

Photo courtesy collector K. Bean

Photo courtesy collector K. Bean

Horse in background is a regular factory finish Monrovia era example. Photo courtesy collector K. Bean

Owned by K. Bean, photo courtesy D. West.

Below is an example of a factory-produced (OF) SV, which is much closer to the real mare's registered description: "dark sorrel, star, light short stripe below eyes, mane light, black hooves." There is no notation at all about any white leg markings. This probably means that the white color HR used was meant to represent her pangare or pale chestnut hairs on her lower legs, but they stayed true to her black hooves! 

Dark Monrovia version, photo courtesy K. Wellman.

A lighter Monrovia, photo courtesy K. Wellman.

An even lighter Monrovia, photo courtesy K. Wellman.

The Belgian Draft Horse Corp. was very helpful and friendly, but apologized that their electronic records do not yet include the older registered entries, some of which were handwritten. Both of Sespe Violette's parents fall into this category. All I can tell you is that her sire is #S19959 and her dam is #M19287. If you happen to access an old studbook of 1942-1944, I'd love to know their names.

The real SV was first owned by Rancho Sespe of Fillmore, CA. While no information on their Belgian breeding program was readily available, here is an adorable crate label for the farm's citrus, its best-known produce. Imagine standing your Sespe on a printout of that in a Collectibility class at a live show? Or shrinking the image, and having her haul a wagon full of crates for Performance? 

There is yet another potentially accurate performance entry for this sculpture. The story goes that SV was one of the Belgians who pulled the starting gate for Santa Anita. If true, it makes sense that Maureen would have seen her there, as she regularly sketched the Thoroughbreds at Santa Anita, during their morning workouts. The Belgians also had the duty of harrowing the track for the races. There were different Belgian teams employed, apparently owned by different people, over the years. Some of the owner names in personal recollections online are Tom Parks (Charming Alibi) and Dewey burdan. SV's owners are not connected, as far as my research probed. The earliest Santa Anita Belgian reference I found was 1939 and the latest 1974. 

Maybe somewhere in this image is a laboring Sespe Violette?

Found on Google, from Milwaukee Journal, 1939.

There is a little confusion online about the breed identity of the drafters used at Santa Anita, prior to the era of employing tractors. USC's archive patron seems to have misidentified the Belgians in this image as Clydesdales. The Belgians were the first employed, followed by the Budweiser Clydesdales, originally from the nearest Busch attraction. The Clydesdales again made a guest-pull of the 1984 Olympics equestrian events medal podium at Santa Anita. They still make an appearance for Santa Anita opening day each year, but they are no longer pulling the starting gate, just their wagon. 

This is not to imply the Belgians were frail weaklings who needed replacing. A team of Belgian geldings named "Bob" and "Leo" were retired from Santa Anita in 1954 and went straight to the same duties at another racetrack, Rillito, in Tuscon, AZ. The source claims that they "Once won a California pulling contest; at one time were the second largest Belgian draft team in the world." Not exactly pansies, nor shrinking "violettes"!

According to this sports reference, at least some of the Belgians were still employed as of 1956. Gotta love the description, "beer-truck-sized". One look at a Sespe ceramic, and you can imagine it.

Here is a tiny photo and blurb from the Arcadia Tribune, 1964. "Starting Gate Team Sam and Bud Quit Races", a rather tiny print image about the retirement of another pair of Santa Anita's Belgians. When you consider the immense strain and logistics of quickly hauling the starting gate off the track before the Thoroughbreds finished each race, it's understandable that the Belgians were retired with frequency. It was not like plodding farm work!

The closest date I found online for the Belgians' complete replacement is 1974. A longtime employee at Santa Anita informed me that, "The Belgians left in the '60-70's; the Clydesdales left in the early '90's, and they were there for ten years." 

No hard evidence of Sespe Violette's formal employment could be found online, from Santa Anita itself, nor with her registry. Her last recorded owners were Darrell and Jan Livesay of Clinchport, VA; she was last purchased April 25, 1961. Her age and date of death is unreported.

She lives on, in a sense, as a beloved ceramic portrait. I could go on about how beautifully round the draft muscling and silhouette is, and I do, quite often. I love old-type draft horses. Here are several lovely vintage glaze variations of this model, all chestnut or "sorrel", plus some oddities are included here. HR produced the Sespe Violette mold # B-567, in 1954-5, and during the San Dimas era, from Fall 1967 to Spring 1968. 

Monrovia example, photo courtesy D. West.

Monrovia example, factory goof, missing a metallic ring on her surcingle. 

San Dimas example, owned by J. Pook, photo courtesy D. West.

San Dimas factory unique glaze or possible test, photo courtesy D. West.
Note the different tack and braid colors.
This piece came from the estate of former HR decorator Marie Benzango.
This piece was originally mounted to a redwood base, which was a rare means of marketing some HRs in the late 1960's.
The base crumbled in shipping, but the photo below shows the original condition.

San Dimas example, photo courtesy D. West.

Very dark San Dimas example.
Photo courtesy of Hagen-Renaker Pottery: Horses and Other Figurines by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

My observation is that the Sespe mold sculptures are different between the Monrovia and San Dimas factories by the following points: the faces have different profiles; cheekbones have different curves and angles; ears are different; different neck wrinkles. Even a crispy Monrovia SV head is softer in detail than a typical San Dimas SV.

Left: Monrovia SV; right: San Dimas SV, photos courtesy D. West.

Left: Monrovia SV by author. This is considered a very crisp example of Monrovia SV, as even her mane crest hairs are sharp.
Right: San Dimas SV by D. West. My apologies that the angles aren't a perfect match, and it is the unusual glaze one. 

Speaking of mold differences, the later SV mold derivation is titled, "Crusader", and is designated as a Percheron. This appears to not be styled after a specific Percheron. There was a Crusader 1523, gray filly, foaled in 1874, but that is the closest without added words in the name. The name may have come from the breed's origin story, linked with the Crusades.

Original HR Sales Sheet for Crusader, Spring 1959

Crusader is mold # B-706, produced in variably gray-shaded white in the Monrovia era from Spring 1959 to Spring 1960, and then in San Dimas from Spring 1966 to Spring 1967. As with the two eras of SV, the Monrovia and San Dimas Crusaders appear to have different face details. As usual, San Dimas is more angular, narrower in profile, and sharp. 

Monrovia era Crusader.

Some collectors don't like crackle, but how can one not love crackle, when it follows real hair growth patterns?

These two different colored and styled eyes are on the same model above.
Factory goof? I would say so.

Monrovia era Crusader, photo courtesy D. West.

San Dimas era Crusader, photo courtesy D. West.

Maureen personally glazed this Crusader. It is the one shown for the mold's entry in the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Hagen-Renaker.

Just to be double-awesome, here are photos from a photoshoot by K. Bean, a rare moment with both Maureen-glazed molds in the same location. These images make me indescribably happy. 

This chart was meant to give some idea of the mold differences, but resulted in a relationship of casting thickness (thick clay walls = heavier) to the horses' measurements. It's interesting to note the Charlton HR Handbook gives 6" tall for Sespe, and 6.25" tall for Crusader. 

The most notable differences between SV and Crusader are the Crusader's reduced leg feathering, loose mane and tail, and lack of any tack.

Note in each photo, Crusader's heels are free of feathers. Sespe's are webbed with hair.

Hair and braid detail of Sespe's tail.

When the Monrovia Sespe on the left was pulled out of the mold, 
her right legs were tugged slightly, but they were not straightened before drying. 
This is why she has a winging out foreleg and pointing-right hindhoof.
The Crusader is normal.

Mane and crest detail. Note the different neck wrinkles.

Collector values (not necessarily what eBay brings) of vintage Sespe Violette models flutter around $1,000-1,200, and a crisp, vintage Crusader may bring $900. However, condition, glaze free of flaws, and mold detail are key to the high end values. Most of the examples shown in this post are outstanding and some are even one-of-a-kind glazes; their values range 2-5x the collector value of a "regular" SV or Crusader, depending on who glazed it and when.

You may be thinking, "That's it. That's all there is to say about these."

Test San Marcos Crusader, photo courtesy C. Perry.

And then, I blew your mind with the San Marcos Crusaders. Yes, and they almost happened, too! This San Marcos test Crusader was one of the oddities that my friends (with me the tag-along) picked up at Skip's and shipped carefully to a grateful collector, back in the mid-1990's. Cynthia Perry is that original owner, and she shares the following about its origin:

"Color: test gloss rose grey

Production: One of 4 test San Marcos ‘Crusaders’

Before the end of the San Marcos era in 1986, H-R considered re-releasing ‘Crusader’ as a special run for Karen Grimm of Black Horse Ranch. However, the factory decided against it when a single collector complained that a re-release would harm values on original Monrovia and San Dimas era pieces.

FOUR test San Marcos ‘Crusader’ Percheron pieces were produced, this gloss rose grey, a similar rose grey in matte, a gloss rose grey with a dark mane and tail and an unusual “bay” with black mane and tail, but no dark points.

Of those four tests, three were sold by H-R in a group lot to Karen Grimm of Black Horse Ranch. The last piece remained in the hands of a former H-R moldmaker, who sold it privately at a later date."

You have not missed your chance to obtain one of these charming draft horses at a reasonable price. The HR factory reconsidered the above argument of loss of value, and is currently offering the reissue Sespe Violette in a range of colors. It appears to be the San Dimas mold version.

Reissue test glossy chestnut, photo courtesy D. West.

In closing, on Friday, May 11th, don't forget to wish the real "Sespe Violette" a Happy 68th Birthday, wherever she may be! I think I'll ask for a reissue Sespe, in celebration of her birthday. A birthday gift by any other date would be as sweet!

UPDATE 6/9/2015:

It was great to finally see one of the elusive Japan copies of the Crusader mold. There are actually several different ones out there, including a reverse copy with jewels for eyes! In the comments below, a collector included links to their copy, stating it is a direct recast. 

I grabbed one of my authentic Crusader photos, then matched the cropping, and resized to match the collector's image. Then, I overlaid her image to determine if they were same mold. 

The head and jaw is the most obvious difference, followed by stance of legs. Crusader also has different shapes to her light leg feathering, as well as different ear position. If one exams the other angles of the copy, the mane is completely different from Crusader. It is likely that the designer was following a Crusader as their guide, but it is clearly sculpted by another hand. It is a very handsome copy, and I would like to find one, someday!


Anonymous. "Mighty Belgians Get Santa Anita Track In Shape." Milwaukee Journal 10 Feb. 1939: 22.

Belgian Draft Horse Corp. of America.

Benuish, Alison, ed. Hagen-Renaker Research Materials: 1949- Present. N. pag. Salisbury, MD: WMHC, 1995.

Haupt, Steve. Thread: "Army farriers in WWII and Japan." Society of the Military Horse internet forum. Post #17, April 20, 2012.

Kelly, Nancy. Hagen-Renaker Pottery: Horses and Other Figurines. Page 154. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2000.

Kelly, Nancy. Hagen-Renaker: Through The Years. Page 76. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2001.

Kelly, Nancy. Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love: Hagen-Renaker and Beyond. Pp. 6, 77. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2003.

Murphy, Pat. "Hoofbeats" column. Santa Ynez Valley Journal. Feb. 8, 2010. 5/2/2012.

Pers. comm., unidentified Santa Anita Park long term employee, 5/3/2012.

Pers. comm., Jane at The Belgian Draft Horse Corporation, 5/2/2012.

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

"Scanned Document." Rillito Race Track Final Significance. Page 18. 1986. 5/2/2012.

USC Digital Library

West, Dara. Pers. comm. 4/30- 5/4/2012.


  1. A friend owns a 1960s edition of Arabian Horse World magazine, which notes Sespe Violette as being in the ownership of Kellogg Ranch at Pomona. If this is accurate, it would explain how Maureen Love became acquainted with her.

    I have an exceptional Japan copy Crusader in bay - it looks as if it was a direct copy moulded from an original rather than a resculpted copy. I nearly did backflips when I found her (in the UK) before I realised HR didn't release her in bay!

  2. Hi Keren, Thank you for the input, and that very well could be where Maureen saw her, if SV was not employed at the track where she sketched. The Belgian registry said that not all owner transfers get reported to them, and the only interim owner reported to them (between Fillmore and Virginia owners) was in Compton, CA.

    Would you please share a photo of the Japan copy? I'd like to see it!

  3. The Japan copy is packed away at the moment, but when I eventually get round to digging her out I will send pix. I don't think I've ever come across another like her.

  4. I found one of the above 'foreign stamped Crusader copies last year at a car boot sale! She's in perfect condition and from the photos of the original, definitely looks like a direct recast.

  5. Hi Last Alliance Studios,
    I just uploaded images to this blog post that compares your copy with an authentic Crusader. It is not a direct recast, but a very nice Japan-sculpted copy.

    1. Oh that's disappointing, I was hoping it was an actual copy! I don't collect clinkies as a rule, and I don't have any HRs to compare to so I was just going by rough visuals rather than anything more concrete, haha!
      I'm glad you like her though, despite not being the 'real deal' as it were, she looks nice on my windowsill, surveying the rest of my collection. :)

  6. Very interesting copy! What are it's dimensions please? That gives us a lot of information.

    1. Thank you! I never have any luck finding anything horse shaped at boot sales but I obviously struck lucky this time!

      Ok, not sure how much you want in terms of measurements but here we go:

      Nose to tail - 225mm
      Ground to withers - 140mm
      Ground to highest point of crest - 170mm
      Width at widest part (the bum, heh) - 73mm