Monday, September 30, 2013

Muddy Monday: Not The Whole Ball Of Wax

Collectors were first made aware of this unusual Morgan horse miniature, when it appeared on page 12, in the chapter "The Artist's Personal Collection" of Nancy Kelly's book, Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love.

Shown at the top of the page, the caption reads: 

Standing only 3.8" tall, this Morgan stallion was created from Plasti-Carve, a modelling material. Maureen said she did it a long time ago, just for herself.

Until very recently, I would never have guessed otherwise. It absolutely looks exactly as described above. Plasti-Carve is a porcelain powder-infused wax, for carving and casting. When it is reused over years, it can indeed turn from its creamy white to a dirty, speckled tan.

The only example known, and thought to be an original wax carving, this piece was sold in the Maureen Love estate auction in June 2005. It had sustained damage while in Maureen's collection, and still bore the plumber's epoxy putty she had mended it with. The epoxy is sort of thick and smooshed out between the breaks. 

It's not exactly pretty, and could do with an update. This year, I was commissioned to restore it for its current owner. It stands 3.75" tall and has no stallion genitalia at all. When I first held the model, it didn't feel like Plasti-Carve. 

I rapped it with a fingernail... and it "tinked" in answer. I turned it over, and found it had been slipcast. The concentric "tree rings" in this broken leg further attest that it is slipcast clay. If a horse is slipcast, it follows that there is a mold of it!

The gray coloration was a dipped art glaze, which had crawled and pin-holed badly. It was, in fact, fired ceramic!

What kind of ceramic clay body did she cast it in? This calls for the water droplet test!

The water droplet took a seat and stuck around for a visit. Since it didn't disappear into the exposed clay surface, that meant this was a vitrified clay, and my guess is Maureen's stoneware slip formula.

The great thing about a vitrified ware is that if you need to remove stubborn epoxy, as I did, the whole piece can be submerged in water and brought up to a boil. Try as I might, I could not get all of the putty off without help.

Don't try this with a wax!

Even a few seconds at a boil is enough to soften the epoxy so that it can be removed with an X-acto blade. Have to work fast, it is cooling and hardening instantly!

This piece had so many areas, I had to reheat it several times to have enough working time for each segment of putty. The item must not be put back in boiling water once the ware has cooled even slightly; I had to wait for the pot to cool, then place it back in, then bring the whole thing back up to a boil, each time. It's a very good thing the mend was updated, since unmixed chunks within the putty areas had already crystallized, and some were turning to powder.

When he separated from the base, I found putty had even been smooshed inside of him!

This angle shows the lack of gender indication, although Maureen called it a stallion sculpture.
It's worth noting, because even on her minis, you can tell.

Finally, the little guy (?) was free of everything that was not original to him. If you're counting, you noticed he is missing one-and-a-half legs. One entire leg was substituted with putty!

I carefully assembled the small pieces onto the body, then matched up the body to the base as best I could. I have some diamond drill bits, but they don't perform very well, and I didn't want to risk it on such a tiny horse. So, I set a leg armature wire in place, without pinning it. I wouldn't do this on a horse without so many other contact points, of course.

When vitreous wares break off a base, the legs "spring" out of alignment. It's impossible to get a dead-on match. I am happy that it got so close! 

The Aves Apoxie (artist quality epoxy putty) was applied very sparingly to the mends.

The two forelegs require such delicate sculpting, that I need something bulkier than wire to build against. The first application of putty will be left to set up, then the second application will fill out the legs.

There will be more about this restoration, in a future post. That's enough for one Muddy Monday. It's waxing long.

Thank you to the owner, Jo Ellen Arnold, for the opportunity to learn from this unique piece of Maureen's artwork. 


Kelly, Nancy. Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love: Hagen-Renaker and Beyond. Page 12. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.: Atglen, PA, 2003.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Muddy Monday: Twelve Habits of Happy Collectors

I recently visited with a local collector, Jayne Kubas, and was interested to learn that we shared several similar collecting habits and specialties. She has been collecting in near-isolation from the model horse hobby for several years. Even without the modern internet forums and Facebook, her collection is well curated, well documented, and brings her immense joy. Like mine, it is not large, but it doesn't have to be. This is because certain habits in collecting, without influence of other people, set the stage for satisfaction.

Most internet lists of habits use the word, "successful" in the title. I used "happy" on purpose, since "success" in collecting is subjective, but happy is easy to identify. The habits in this list are not numbered, because there is not a strict order of importance or chronology. 

Infrequent dusting. 

The first reasoning a person may use to convince themselves to not purchase an item- "I have enough things to dust"- is not a viable argument. That's right, the less one messes with the fragile ceramics in their cabinet setting, where all surfaces are hard, the better off everyone is. I personally dust everything, top to bottom, once every two or three years. I know other ceramic collectors who do not dust their cabinets this often. If your nerves are telling you that it's a bad idea to dust frequently, listen. Most guests understand what an undertaking it is to empty an entire cabinet and safely replace them all. They wouldn't want that task every month, either!

Keep files. Know your inventory.

Don't trust it to memory. We all can forget details. What if something happened, and you didn't have a chance to convey to your loved ones what you have saved in your brain? If your collection is of a modest size, you don't need a whole filing cabinet. Keep a school binder with a sheet for each item in your collection. Some collectors put a photo of the item on its page, for immediate recognition. Others use a number ID system, and affix numbered adhesive tags on the hoof or base of each item. I have also seen some collectors write out the provenance, with ink or pencil, directly on the base or belly of their collectibles. Others print out self-adhesive labels with provenance, to place on the model's base. Make use of the reference books, and identify the color, factory era, and mold number of each piece. Identify them as if someone who knew nothing about the collection was being introduced to it.

Maintain a useful library about your collectibles.

The happiest, most thorough collectors, that I have met, tend to buy two copies of each professionally-printed book on their collecting interests. One copy is a working copy, for weekly or daily reference, wherein the owner hand-writes corrections, additions, contact information for owners of featured pieces, and auction results. The other copy is kept in fine condition, and is really part of the collection, itself. It is scarcely, if ever, used.

Books on subjects related to, but not useful to, the collector's focus or interests are represented by a single copy, or not at all. It is about having reference material handy for one's own needs, not about having the most collectibles titles under one roof.

Be flexible with your time.

This is a hard one to achieve, in today's world of working two jobs, commuting, and volunteer commitments. Thankfully, smart phones and widespread internet access make it possible to check sales sites while in a waiting room, or during a break. Some collectors work unusual hours, and they surf eBay for late-night "Buy It Now" bargains. I wouldn't even mention it, if I didn't know of some wonderful deals my collector friends won, just by being among the few awake at a given hour. Got insomnia? Make it work for you!


Trading is one of the greatest joys of being in a collecting community. This is an easier proposition for those who have established themselves, and have a solid reputation. For beginners in ceramic horse collecting, specifically, I would recommend starting out trading in person at model horse events. Protect yourself by carrying your own handheld mini blacklight (around $10 shipped). This tool will let you fully assess any repaired damage, and thus have a better idea of trade value. It is normal for collectors to forget about all the repairs done to a piece over its lifetime, particularly if they have held up well. Don't assume a seller/trader is trying to pull a fast one, they probably just forgot. At any rate, the blacklight makes it clear to both parties what damage exists, and makes for a more fair negotiation. Trading at events also means that you don't have the troubles of boxes, foam peanuts,  and deciding who-ships-first. 

Remember: there is no such thing as "restored to mint". There is "restored", and there is "mint condition", but a piece can't truthfully be both at once.

To help build one's reputation as a good trader, leave your business card, or contact information, with your trade partner. Ask them to post to any of the hobby reference boards about their satisfaction with the trade.

After the beginner has had a few positive reports online, it is much easier to pursue long-distance trading. Search the reference boards before doing business with any hobbyist. Use the insurance, signature, and other secure shipping tools that shipping carriers offer. 


Some of this is covered, above. The happiest collectors keep in touch with other collectors. They find great fun in helping their friends find items they need to complete their collections, because we've all had that "Aha!" moment. It feels good to make it happen for someone else we like. One of my favorite things to do in a quiet moment is to send links of things I've found, that I suspect my collecting friends need. At best, it completes years-long searches, and makes everyone's day. At worst, it just gives them a smile to know you are thinking of them, and watching for the things they like. 

You can network at shows, on collection tours, at collectibles book signings, and even at workshops related to your collecting focus.

The gems of three different collections, in an unprecedented photo shoot:
priceless horses glazed by Maureen Love.
This was not at a horse show, just collectors getting together to visit and share.

One tip for ease of networking in a collectibles field: do more listening to others, than talking about what you have. Nine times out of ten, you will be surprised to learn that the quiet shy person has amassed a collection over three decades, or their mother was a collectibles dealer. When a new collector-friend asks you about your favorite piece, just tell them the one, and it's OK to be giddy and happy, too. Just don't give a laundry list. There's lots of time to share more, as you go forward.

It's not about the ribbons. Well, maybe, a little.

If you want to compete, read the show packets carefully before entering. Learn which shows understand the needs of ceramics exhibitors. If you don't see what you need to find out, write the show holder and ask specific questions. Show holders may offer these courtesies to china exhibitors, at no additional charge:

A table space against a wall
Gaps of 1-2" between each table
Exhibitor space close to the "china" show ring

Nice things that may cost more:

Extra table space (such as an upgrade to a full from a half-table exhibitor space)
All-china specialty show
Shipping ahead and storage of boxes of china showhorses

There are plenty of volunteer jobs at a show, which can get you close to see everything and to network, without the pressure of competition. Volunteering can be a fun way to be active in the scene.

Paper roll and lights.

Invest in a good, useful (not necessarily top grade) camera, photography lights, and a backdrop or PhotoCube. Make sure you get the same color photography bulbs, each time they need replacing. Ahem.

You will need to take at least one clear photo of each piece for insurance replacement, your own records, sharing with friends, and when you edit your collection.

A PhotoCube set up.

If you don't know, ask.

You'll get to see what Maxine sent, in a future article.

Write letters, and snailmail them, don't just leave them in the desk drawer. Send emails. If the person you need to contact prefers to use the telephone, call them at a time that is convenient for them, not an hour after they have gone to bed. Courtesy and humility will help you find answers. Sometimes, you will receive even more in return.

It's OK to not be a "completist" collector. Specialization is key to happiness.

This sort of follows the philosophy of "love yourself first, and you will be ready to love others". When you identify your favorite area of collecting, you are accepting your own sense of taste. Your personal fancy is legitimate, even if it is not what may bring the big ribbons in shows. It doesn't matter what other people like. You aren't collecting for them. They aren't living in your house and seeing this every day. It's much more fulfilling to focus your budget and space for the things that you deeply love, then it is to have a lot of things that give little connection. With time, because it takes time to find things within a specialty, you will have much more appreciation for the collecting whims of others. You will have interesting anecdotes and production facts to share about collecting, because of your specialization journey. Welcome to the party, Professor!

A doll collector had to have an example of every major manufacturer, but they were not terribly clear on what they wanted, at heart. The collection was a hodge-podge of doll styles, ages (baby to fashion), condition, rarity, and era. It wasn't terribly nice to look at because it had zero specialization, and the curation was completely lacking. This is a dangerous pitfall if you start with a goal for the Guinness World record in collecting, or any quantity measurement to determine status. Decide for yourself whether a collecting "accomplishment" means it must be a contest, or personal satisfaction for the long-term.


Curation is the vigilant editing and awareness that distinguishes an assembly of objects from a collection. This job starts with selection, and continues with organization, display methods, and restoration; it makes room for new acquisitions by the culling of items that do not support the quality or focus of the whole. 

Without curation, it's like an unscented landfill. It's tedious to look at, it's hard to find anything when you need it, it takes up a lot of space, stuff is constantly falling over other stuff, and you find yourself not wanting to spend a lot of time there.

Appreciation Time.

Every happy collector I know does this. Find a comfy place to rest and just look at your collection. Pick a piece, sit down with it, turn it over in your hands, or, if it's too large, walk around it. Set it in a well-lit spot and really look at it, as an individual piece. You'll remember why you do this. You'll see the evidence of the human hands that made it, and feel a connection. You'll be glad that you went to the trouble to bring this item into your life.

If you ever find items that don't do any of this for you anymore, it's time to curate.

Appreciation to the many collectors who helped raise in this hobby!
Also, gratitude to the owners of the various items illustrating this post: Keith Bean, Jo Ellen Arnold, Liz Bouras, and Jayne Kubas.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Muddy Monday: You'll Never Bull Leave It

These posts have a pattern: they start out with bittersweet memories, and end with happy coincidences. This one began with my husband and I on the cusp of losing his father to a 10-month-long battle with brain cancer. We lived next door, and provided daily care and support to both parents, even to the point of our own livelihood coming last. At the same time, the estate of Maureen Love was being dispersed via eBay auctions. It was very hard to watch pieces I'd remembered seeing around her home and garden, now scattered to the winds. We were trying to recover from nearly a year of selling off our own collections to support our caregiving. Buying stuff wasn't a priority.

My husband, however, knew what it meant to me. He kept watching the auctions. When random items were staying low, he'd snap them up, when we could afford it. One such item was a black Spanish Fighting Bull that he fell in love with, at auction during the week that his father passed away. When it arrived, it startled us both by being such a large ceramic piece for such a small price. It barely fit in the cabinet, it was so long. 

Maureen love's personal collection piece
Approx. 7.5" tall x 5.5" wide x 15" long

Seeing it in person made me so happy, it was so unusual and artsy. It is regal, full of movement and strong angles that catch the light. The hole in his neck is damage, but it's a result of a thin area of the casting, so I don't want to restore it. It is a peephole into the process. This casting wasn't perfect, because the lower areas are very thick, and that upper neck is paper-thin. It looks like what happens when plaster doesn't absorb properly, maybe due to mold soap, and, later, the slip plugged up while draining, making the lower surfaces extra-thick.

Its glaze looks similar to the glaze that Maureen called the "lizard skin" glaze. Years before, during a raku workshop at Pour Horse Pottery over a BOYC show weekend, this was the glaze I had chosen for my workshop medallion. 

The smoke gray texture surrounding the horse is the "lizard skin" glaze.

I'm not sure this is exactly what Maureen's bull is glazed in, but if it is, the difference may be due to raku firing vs. low firing (bull). I'm curious if anyone knows if this is the bull's glaze identity, for certain. 

All I know is that this was custom glazed by Maureen, and is a claybody custom. The eyes and various features have extra carving, and it has an overall Cubist style. 
If you think about it: Spanish Fighting Bull... Spain.. Cubism... it's really neat.

The pale speckles are household bug debris and dust, exactly as it came from Maureen's home.
His textured glaze has a crackle, and I'm afraid to wash the debris into the crackle with a cleaning.

Wait. How do I know it has "extra" carving?

Because this mold was also produced by a factory, without hollowed-out eyes and sharpened hooves.

Dawn Sinkovich had seen this black bull in Maureen's collection, a few years before. She has a curiosity for the unusual, even the abstract, ceramics by Maureen. When she recognized the mold in a production copy of this bull, she bought it on instinct. Recently, she brought it to my studio for photos, to be briefly reunited with its brother.

Add another mold to the list of those Maureen designed for Lane & Company/ Lane Ceramics. This a very abstract, angular interpretation, quite divergent from the style of her Lane horse molds. There is no mold marking nor number on it. I need to locate an old order form to learn its mold number and name.

Dawn told me that she has seen it in red with gold overglaze accents, as well. I am looking for a White or Black Pearl of this bull, to display with the custom. Please contact me if you have one for sale.

They are so large, I couldn't quite get the camera to show them at the same angle.

Another interesting "tell" on this White Pearl bull, which makes me think it is a Lane, or at least produced by the same factory that Lane distributed, is the way in which the pearl is sprayed on. It follows the same "upper surfaces" pattern that was used to decorate the "Running Horse" A-9 in White Pearl.

Belly is plain white glaze.
The black bull's hooves are also hollow and open, but his 2 raised feet have carved hoof bottoms.

Using extreme PhotoShop contrast to show the spray pattern of the pearl overglaze. 
Note how it is broken by the belly line, with some overspray to the sheath and inner foreleg.
This is a result of the same directional shading method used on the White Pearl A-9.

Soft mold detail tells us that they ran a lot of these from the molds.
We should be able to find them, out there!

Maureen carved out hollows for eyes on some of her own home-glazed works. 
There is a stoneware Gig Thoroughbred, and some smaller pieces, with the same carved-eye style.

This means that this black pebble-skinned bull is the only known example of a Lane mold (or whatever factory Lane distributed for) that was custom glazed by Maureen. Like some of her personal collection custom glazes on Hagen-Renakers, the black bull was a greenware second (uneven thickness of casting walls). I would imagine that, since she took home a bad greenware bull and customized him for herself, that she might have done the same with her horse molds for Lane, too. That's what I'd do! This means that we all should be on the lookout for the "Mystery Horses" in Maureen Love's own textural finishes, turning up in yard sales or eBay. 

How amazing a coincidence that one of the few pieces I was able to acquire from the estate auctions ended up being so unique and relevant in my later research into the Mystery Horses, I mean, the Mystery Animals*, that she designed!

You may be thinking, "So, you have evidence of a fighting bull. Did he have a matador? Other mid-century ceramic bulls were paired with their own matadors." 

If you look at this site, you can view a Lane TV lamp of a lone matador, sans bull. Where is the bull?

I think we know where he is.

And I doubt that Love collectors will ever leave one of these bulls again, if they are lucky enough to find one.

Special Thanks to my husband, Paul Francis for the black bull, and to Dawn Sinkovich for bringing her White Pearl bull for the photo shoot.

I'm now really wondering about the Puma planter, shown in earlier posts on the Lane/Mystery subject. It has crossed my mind before.