Monday, June 10, 2013

Muddy Monday: Ceramic Horse Competitions

Looking for something fun to do in collecting ceramics, beyond competing with other bidders on eBay? Some of us arrange get-togethers for the sake of just learning and sharing, such as a home show, fun day, or a tour of regional collections. Most new collectors do not have the connections to begin with tours. How does one meet fellow enthusiasts? Collectors of both vintage factory pieces and artist-glazed horses may compete in actual shows, which are rewarding both socially and materially. Here, ceramic horses are judged on color or breed representation, and rarity or precision in detail. The "or" is conditional on whether the horse was mass-produced or a unique studio piece. Each horse is fitted with an ID tag, and the owner's name is hidden until judging is complete. It is just the ceramic collectible, judged on its own merits.

The United States has a week-long model horse extravaganza in Lexington, KY, during July, in even-numbered years. These events are the North American Nationals, BreyerFest, Breakables at BreyerFest, Equilocity, and the Stone Age show at Equilocity. In years like 2013, some of these events are still held, but the action does not begin until the Thursday of the week.

A show string of 6-10 horses brought home these ribbons from the 2012 Lexington conventions.
You don't have to have a huge collection to compete favorably.

Before any horse models may be entered at the hobby's highest field of competition, the annual "NAN" (North American Nationals), they must earn qualification at an earlier show. This means that each model must have won a first or second place in a qualifying class, at an official North American Model Horse Shows Association member show, within the previous four years. This means that models are filtered for quality and condition, before reaching the Nationals level of competition.

The NAN covers so many types of model horses, and styles of showing them, that the event spans three days. The ceramics classes are all on even-years' Thursday, the final day of Nationals-level competition.

NAN 2012 Custom Glaze classes being loaded and judged.
The tables to the far left are factory finish china. The far right side are exhibitor tables.
This show gets about 200 exhibitors.

2012 National Champion Custom Glaze Workmanship Pinto (All Patterns)

Thursday afternoon, shortly after the NAN ceramics classes are judged and awarded, an all-ceramics specialty show starts on the other side of town. This is Breakables, a show that qualifies 1st-2nd placers for the next two years' NANs. Those exhibiting chinas at both NAN and Breakables have a couple of hours to pack up from one show, drive across town to the other show, unpack, and prepare for the next round of judging. It is, by a long shot, the nation's strongest test of physical endurance for ceramics exhibitors. The good news is, Breakables is held annually. In odd-number years, it is the only ceramics event held that day. Much to our relief!

One of the largest ceramics to compete at any model horse show, anywhere!
Breakables is the show to see such feats of clay.
This show gets about 25-40 exhibitors, fluctuating with the NAN years.

Ceramics shows attract the best show-quality pieces.
The factory classes allow one to make side-by-side comparisons. 

This HR Daisy took an Overall in her division.
The giant box contains a Breyer porcelain, the grand prizes at this show.

Ceramic showers like to exhibit pieces of history, just for the sake of sharing them.
This piece is the first known self-produced ceramic horse by Maureen Love.

At Breakables, the classlist allows room for ceramics to compete by country of origin, finish, and rarity.
This was a fun "reunion" photo of three brothers from earlier blog posts.

And then, five minutes later, the middle one would not be left out.
This one was a test run, competing separately from his brothers.

The final show of the week, which welcomes factory and custom glazed ceramics alike, is the Saturday show during Stone Horses' Equilocity convention. This is a general show (all materials of model can enter), but it gives separate championships to factory and custom china models. This is held the same week as Breyerfest, across the street from the Breakables show hall. Unlike most china specialty shows, general shows do not prevent the public from mixing among the tables and getting close to models.

Stone Age Live show 2012: factory and custom glaze callbacks being double-judged.
This year (2013), it will be single-judged.
Usually, between 40-60 exhibitors each year.

At this show, trophies are collectible plastic models, new for each year.
Sometimes, the winner is smaller than the trophy!

Or, smaller than the rosettes!

Once every few years, I host a two-day ceramics show, near my studio. Clinky Classic is traditionally held in December, as our winters are rather mild. It takes me 2-4 years to develop each show, as the theme and awards are completely new, each time. If you'd like to know as soon as the next one is starting, this is where announcements are made. I really love to make it an awards-heavy event.

Grand champion full classic size ceramic trophies, unique to the 2012 Clinky show.
Averages 25 exhibitors each show.

But, this isn't December, it is now June. This is a good time to consider entering the Breakables 2013 show. If the idea of leaping into one's first all-china show is intimidating, I would recommend starting out by showing in an odd-number year, like this one (2013). The pacing of the entire week leading up to Breakables this year is much more relaxed. The general vibe around the host hotel is "calm positivity", in non-NAN years. The stress level and pacing of that Thursday is very mild. Ceramics, or "china", showers like calm, because it reduces the risk of accidents.

On July 18th, 2013, the Breakables Live show will be held in Lexington again. It is always an afternoon-evening competition, so the hall opens at 2pm and judging begins at 3pm. One can arrive, unpack, and start the show well-rested and well-fed, that afternoon.

Speaking of well-fed, it is worth noting that the Breakables show provides a mammoth food spread for its entrants and judges, for the entire show duration. A variety of fresh fruit, snacks, and hot pizza is kept fresh. There is even a microwave for heating up personal servings, later in the show. This continuous supply is maintained by Marge Para as a show volunteer, because the show schedule does not stop for an official dinner break. 

Check out the voluminous classlist and the awards that are exclusive to this year's show!

The Breyerfest theme for 2013 is "Denim and Diamonds".
I sculpted the award tile: a jeans pocket, with the first year's Breakables horse brought back for an encore!

Black and dark blue denim glaze.
Marge Para did all the production on the tile awards.

Stonewash black and bright blue denim glaze.

As a Breyer-sponsored show, Breakables is held in the convention's host hotel, the Clarion (Holiday Inn North Lexington). The show also features Breyer porcelains (maybe this year they will have the plastic trophy models, as in other Breyer shows?) for the Overall champions of each division, satin rosette awards, and volunteer compensation for the judges. As a result, this show attracts qualified and educated judges from great distances. Although Marge and I are not big companies like Breyer, we provide the additional sub-division tile awards because we just like to encourage china showing.

Another fun reason to be a Breakables exhibitor: you can get up close and photograph all the amazing models inside the show hall. Non-entrants are restricted to the first row, the entryway and silent auction area, and so can't get close to the ceramics. This is, of course, for the comfort level of the exhibitors. If you don't have many to show, consider the cost of your entry a pass to ask questions, gather research (most exhibitors include information cards with their entries), and make collecting decisions based on seeing items in person, from all angles. This last part alone can be priceless to a budding collector, as ceramic horses are never as good in photographs as they are in person.

Many times, I have seen a collector hesitantly enter their one or two models in a china show, and the models NAN qualify. Very often, a collector keeps a single favorite ceramic because it is sentimental and has a beauty that appeals to them. This quality, in glaze and sculpture design, usually translates to ribbons in the show ring. I know an exhibitor who owns a single china horse, and she campaigns it at every china show. It sweeps up championships and challenge awards. I see more and more plastic or resin horse exhibitors adding single chinas to their strings, in much the same way. You do not have to bring a large string to be competitive. One good horse, that you love, can make it worthwhile. If it's not your day for ribbons, it is the honor of having people photograph and ask about your model, because they think it is cool. 

If you are already coming to BreyerFest this year, seriously consider adding Breakables to your schedule. This year, entrants must be three-day ticket holders for the BreyerFest convention. If you're already a ticket holder, make your Thursday night really sparkle by attending Breakables.

If you can't make it this year, consider having a friend transport your models to Breakables for you. If you can't get a friend to show for you, there are volunteers experienced in ceramics showing, ready to proxy show your model for you. I personally proxied horses for three entrants last year. Sometimes when I proxy, I have to ship an extra box, just for the awards a horse has won. If you are very shy, proxy entry is a good way to start. On the other hand, if you only proxy, you miss out on the immersive experience and meeting some good people. Proxy entrants are not allowed inside the hall.

Any questions you may have about the process of showing and entering can be answered by the show hostess, Maggie Barkovitz. You can reach her, and contact other ceramics collectors, via the official yahoogroup. All the entry forms and documents for the show are only found on the official Breyer site.

Ceramics are best appreciated in person, and this event is a great showcase. It's time to dip your toe in the mud!

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