Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Will The Real Benny Please Stand Up?

What are the odds of being baby-sat by the actual live model for the Hagen-Renaker DW Clydesdale, when I was a little kid in the early 1980's? 

From Sketchbook Horses of Maureen Love, 1990. 
The book was compiled by Joan Berkwitz, with Maureen's permission.

What's so intriguing about this possibility? For one thing, I love the sculpture of Benny the Clydesdale, created by Maureen Love. He's gangly, soft, square, but also has draft horse strength beneath it all. My favorite thing about him is that he isn't shaved and braided for the showring; he has a full beard, loose mane, and fuzzy ears. He's an honest snapshot in time, and looks like the pasture Clydes I knew, as a kid. Thirty years later, I'm a ceramist, critiqued and encouraged by Maureen in my own early artworks, and this art is my daily life. How strange for it all to be connected!

I grew up in North San Diego County, which had agricultural areas intermixed with residential tracts. I had friends who also collected Breyer and Hagen-Renaker (just the minis) model horses, and we'd play at each others' houses on weekends and holidays. One of my friends lived in a large home in one of those rural neighborhoods, with real horses, and a lush, level front lawn, perfect for playing. Directly across from the lawn, two hairy, curious Clydesdales would stand there and watch us playing with our model horses. Once, our parents walked us across the driveway to meet the Clydesdales. We weren't allowed to cross the path alone and pet them. It may have just been polite neighbor manners, or because one was a stallion. As a youth in North County, I've had the top of my head lipped by a Clydesdale on the side of the road, and even rode one at a renaissance faire. Clydesdales, when they did make an appearance, were always memorable.

The small town I played in just happens to be the same small town, and the same timeframe, of the real Benny. In the early 1980's, just how many rare Scottish draft horse stallions can there be in a small California town, with an even smaller need for their plowing prowess? We're talking about a fairly rare breed in this nation back then, let alone in a very localized area where riding horse/pony breeds and grades dominated the equine population. 

From Sketchbook Horses of Maureen Love, 1990. 

The real Benny was bred by Wreford Hewson of Beeton, Ontario, Canada. I found this photo of Mr. Hewson on this site, but, alas, it is not our Benny in the image.

Benny came from an important breeder, not your average farm. There is a Wreford Hewson Memorial Class at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. 

"Class 331 – Stallion and Three Mares – THE WREFORD HEWSON MEMORIAL TROPHY

Each animal must be owned by the Exhibitor and registered in the Exhibitor’s name.  Each animal must have been shown in its appropriate single class.

Trophy is generously donated by the Clydesdale Horse Association of Canada in recognition of Mr. Wreford Hewson’s dedication and support of the Clydesdale Breed and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair during his lifetime." 

Kim Bjorgo-Thorne, on the Clydesdale breed registry historical committee, contacted the son of Wreford, for this blog post. He wrote of Benny: 

"... Mr. Lopez bought him as a 2 year old stallion. Mr. Lopez saw him at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Canada.  Think he may have been junior Ch. Stallion, but not positive.  Dad thought the horse would be too draughty for the U.S.; Mr. Lopez said that in his climate, he wouldn't grow so much hair and would end up about right.

If you've seen the model that was made you are ahead of me as I wasn't

aware and never saw the horse again after he was two...


From the Clydesdale registry's archives:

Born:Apr. 20, 1978
Imported as a 2 year old in 1980 by Frank Lopez of Vista CA.
Description:Dark bay with roan hairs, large white face, legs white."

Here is Benny's pedigree. His sire, Benedictine, was a very influential Clydesdale.

Thanks to a phone interview by a Clydesdale Registry historical committee member, Kim Bjorgo-Thorne, we have a little information about his creation. Mr. Lopez recalls Maureen coming out and sketching Benny, on-site. He loved the four HR Benny models that she gave him. Sadly, they are all broken or gone now, and he wants to replace them. He voiced an interest in having HR reissue the DW portrait.

Sketches xeroxed by Joan Berkwitz in 1990, with Maureen's permission.
Full color reproductions were less common, most were black and white.

Hagen-Renaker Designer's Workshop line Clydesdale, mold #50, produced Spring 1983 to Spring 1986.

Original HR retail sales sheet from Spring 1985.

The HR regular production run Clydesdale came in bay matte or gloss. There is significant variation in the location of the added white markings. Some examples have high whites, others have whites painted below the leg joints. Some have bald faces all the way up under the forelock, others have only white spritzed around the muzzle area. The body color is mostly from the brown tinted clay slip that he was cast in, so white underglaze had to be airbrushed over it, to create the traditional Clydesdale sabino markings. The tinted slip is done in batches, so it varies a bit from batch to batch, like fabric dye lots. A small amount of the body color is dark brown airbrushed directional shading from above. 

Some models have very pale muzzles, others have pink noses. Some models have actual pink underglaze applied, while on others, the bleed-through of brown clay is left to represent the pink. 

Normal matte pink muzzle.

Normal glossy pink muzzle.

The eyes are brown irises with black pupils, and very large and doe-like. Unlike other SM factory horses, I have never seen this mold decorated with eyewhites (tri eyes).

Regular Run Variations

Glossy Bay

Photo courtesy Kim Bjorgo-Thorne.

Unusually low leg whites, and a blank spot in his black mane.
I totally dig this variation, he's so different!
Photo courtesy Sue Nelson.

Model courtesy Cindy Neuhaus, photo by author.

 A bit more body shading than most.

Photo courtesy Lisa Sents.
I'm told there is a red bay variation. This looks pretty red to me!

Matte Bay

Variation of low leg whites, dark body shading.
Photo courtesy Julie Harris.

Pink muzzle with dark gray inside nostrils, little body shading.
Dark toe tips.

Model courtesy Lisa Sents, photo by author.
Exceptional mold detail on this guy, and he looks very similar to the test.
He must have been a very early piece, as they still had yet to iron out those stained feathers.
His muzzle is pure white, with black inside the nostrils!

Photo courtesy Kim Bjorgo-Thorne.

This one is different from the matte above, in markings, mold detail, and in his glaze crackle.
He is a survivor of a house fire.
Photo courtesy Kim Bjorgo-Thorne.

This image shows the variety in how even the bottoms of their feet retained decoration. The very dark feet on the far right do not belong to a regular run. 

The green stickers on the bottoms are collection inventory IDs.

The darkest regular run foot bottoms I could find.
Model courtesy Lisa Sents.

Speaking of feet, can you guess whose feet these are, from the bottoms?

This is the stoneware Benny, poured and decorated by Maureen, herself.

Model courtesy Janet Hicks, photos by author.

Bubbling in this glaze formula of Maureen's is typical.

This next fellow is rather interesting because he was claimed to be both a mold test and a glaze test, according to his original owner, a former HR moldmaker. This example was originally from Skip's collection, one of those rarities at the greenhouse pottery studio. A mold test (a trial casting to see if the mold worked) is sometimes also used as a glaze test. Waste not, want not, so bodies sometimes do double-duty testing. According to McCall, the Clydesdale was issued "after several paint problems and delays", so it leads one to wonder if more San Marcos bay tests were made. The bottoms of his feet are oddly dark (see trio's feet photo), maybe because unlike later Benny models, the white markings were not dipped-then-airbrushed in white underglaze. This looks like they hadn't yet figured out how to "overpower" the brown-tinted slip of the body. There is a significantly greater amount of dark pigment showing on the feathers (leg hair), which appears to come out from under the sprayed white. This makes sense, since it would take a couple glazing tries to get the sprayed layers to the right opacity, to prevent the brown slip body color from "bleeding" through.

This model has extremely sharp detail, being one of the first, if not the first, casting. The uneven textures on his face are the actual toolmarks of the sculptor, which are not even obvious on the stoneware version. I have only seen one other that had some faint toolmarks, shown below for comparison.

The sharpest-detailed regular run that I could locate. 
He has some of the toolmarks.
Model courtesy Lisa Sents.

The clear glaze over him is weird. It is exceedingly "dry", the mattest matte. It feels like matte hard-paste porcelain, even though it is not. Typical production matte Clydes are smooth, silky, and optically milky. They also have lighter body color to begin with, and so a pale regular run matte will appear almost buckskin next to this example. 

Test belly engraving in the mold, and a dry matte glaze.

Regular run matte belly, with almost invisible belly engraving.
Note the lighter body color.

Stoneware Benny isn't shy about his engraving mark.

This guy is not the "red bay" OF variant of this Clyde. There is a red bay and a mahogany bay gloss variant out there, but not quite like this. His knees are black. Very, very black. 

He not only has zero muzzle pink, but he has odd green "grass stains" on his muzzle, as if he'd been grazing. This is exactly how he came from the former HR moldmaker.

The white speck on his shoulder is a chunk of kiln brick.

A pottery student might also note that some of the mattes shown have dry or dull edges to their ears. This is where the glaze doesn't absorb as well. It is not from wear over the years, as that would show as black pigment loss. They come out of the kiln like this. Ears and the sharp, raised parts of manes and tails still have this problem today, when using satin or matte glazes.

A regular run matte Benny with rough spots.

Maybe a coincidence only, but he has the same carved "H" on his foot bottom as the test San Marcos Zara. Other San Marcos tests (unknown if all) also have this same mark. One occasionally finds this same initial on regular issue pieces.

Recognize the KS initials from the Nataf blog post?
Model courtesy Lisa Sents.

Over the years, this piece has been photographed in the Charlton Standard catalogue of Hagen-Renaker (2nd & 3rd editions) as the entry for this mold. There are other instances I know of where Gayle used a photo of a test or custom glaze model as the entry for a horse mold, so it isn't surprising.

A few years after the Benny was discontinued, there was consideration of reissuing him again, as a Special Run. A matte gray test and a gloss gray test were made, but that was as far as the edition progressed. Here is the glossy test:

Photo courtesy of Hagen-Renaker: Through the Years by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

The real Benny sired two registered Clydesdale foals, the colt "Casal" (out of Jeanett's Peggy) and "Casa Linda Marina" (out of Mary Belle). These two were bred and produced one stallion at Casa Linda (Mr. Lopez' farm), "Casa Linda Benedictine". On June 30, 1988, they were both sold to Michael Jackson. Yes, that Michael Jackson. They were bred again and produced one filly at his ranch: "Michelle-Heart of Neverland".

What else did Benny do? There is an interesting anecdote at the end of this article, which may have been Benny and/or his female companions. The year would have been right for Benny.

Benny was owned by Mr. Lopez in Vista, from November 18, 1980 to September 30, 1987. Those are the years that I played at my friend's house, across from where the Clydesdales pastured. Later, we attended rival high schools, and seldom saw each other until college. She was one of my very first original sculpture clients. I have been unable to confirm the name of her Clydesdale-owning neighbor. The registry does not give the street address of Mr. Lopez' Casa Linda farm, although I do have my friend's, in an old address book. How long before I can confirm the connection?

Secret Collector Hopes: That I was there, playing with model horses just a few feet away, while Maureen sketched Benny. Or, that one of those Clydes was the real Benny, and he was watching us at play, all those years. How geeky chinahead can one get? Now you know.

Much Gratitude to Kim Bjorgo for helping hunt down the real Benny; Janet Hicks for allowing me to come and take photographs; Jo Ellen Arnold for her brilliant hospitality and the McCall reference book; Julie Harris, Lisa Sents, Sue Nelson, and Cindy Neuhaus for photos of their Bennies; Nancy Kelly for the use of her book's photo; Joan Berkwitz for my Benny and use of her book's images; Cindy Turner for the DW 1985 sales sheet.


Arnold, Jo Ellen. Pers. comm. 12/7-9/2012 and 4/26-30/2013.

Berkwitz, Joan. Pers. comm. 12/13/2012.

Berkwitz, Joan, ed. Sketchbook Horses of Maureen Love. Privately published: Carlsbad, CA 1990.

Bjorgo, Kim. Pers. comm. 12/10-21/12.

Clydesdale Breeders of the USA Online Studbook. Web site.
From this page, one can peruse all of Benny's offspring and owners.

Kelly, Nancy. Hagen-Renaker: Through the Years. Page 125. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2001.

Kelly, Nancy. Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love: Hagen-Renaker and Beyond. Page 8. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2003.

McCall, Jeannie. The Hagen-Renaker Horse Reference Guide. Page 90. Teena Housman: 1988.

Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Guide. Third Edition. Page 75. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Web pdf document.   
Page 85.

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