Monday, November 25, 2013

UPDATED Muddy Monday: Buzz Cuts

This blog isn't a paid gig; it doesn't reap the rewards that can be measured in a bank account. It does bring about new friendships, networking at its finest, and a special excitement of, "Oh, I can't wait to hear folks' reactions to this news!" It pays in stomach butterflies, of the good kind. Another positive about writing a blog is that after you've been at it a while, people begin to mail you random data that applies to your interest. Or, they hand you stuff to photograph at shows. Or they tag images for you, send you links, and all the good things.

What you read on this blog is not just the product of one person. It is possible only with the help of many hobbyists, even strangers; in a larger sense, it is brought to you by the hands of the pottery artists, themselves.

Today's initial data came from a collector, passing along an interesting letter she received after selling her Hagen-Renaker Designer's Workshop cutting steer on eBay.

Letter courtesy Denise Masters.

The Hagen-Renaker Designer's Workshop "Cutter" is the name of a combination horse and rider ceramic model. It is paired with the sold-separately steer, which is the item that brought about this exchange. Neither were marketed with a proper name, unlike many HR horse and animal models. It was just their activity: "Cutter". Until recently, the identities of the portraits remained lost to time, we just know they were designed by Maureen Love.

Denise's letter informs us that the real bovine who modeled for the steer sculpture was actually a heifer named "Spoody" (a nickname of "Sputnik", after the historic satellite launch). The writer of the letter was her owner, and a friend of the cutter rider, Buzz. Click this and scroll down for photos of many variants of the cutting steer. Spoody was made from Fall 1958-Spring 1966 as mold #B-690; he/she was later identified as mold #24 during San Marcos production, Fall 1981-Spring 1986.

The real horse was the Quarter Horse stallion, "Buzzie Bell H", registered as a "sorrel" stallion, foaled in 1947. The chestnut version HR produced is the closest to the real horse's portrait. It is interesting to note that Maureen's personal art-glazed copy of the Cutter is buckskin, not the portrait color. Maureen's own sketchbook identified this horse by name, but not the rider, nor the "steer". 

Buzzie Bell H
Even when he did wear a bridle, it was bitless.
Photo courtesy Milton Nichols, via Ed Alcorn.

Here is his pedigree. The letter states that, at the time of the sculpture, he was already a Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association Champion. Here is a link to more of his, and his offsprings', achievements. Both Quarter Horses and Paint Horses descend from Buzzie Bell H.

Those unfamiliar with the sport of cutting may wonder why the ceramic horse has no bridle. This indicates a higher level of trust, knowledge, and skill of both horse and rider. It is still practiced today. In fact, the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association has a bridle-less cutting competition to benefit local charities, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Buzz on Buzzie Bell H
The real HR DW Cutter
Photo courtesy Milton Nichols, via Ed Alcorn.

The rider in real life was "Buzz" Harold Hutson. I wrote to Mr. Nichols in September 2013, requesting more biographical information about Buzz. There seems to be none to be had online. As of today, I have not received a reply. 

UPDATE: Ed Alcorn saw this blog post, and just sent me his own letter from Mr. Nichols, with the same date as the letter to Denise in 2010:

Letter courtesy Ed Alcorn.

HR produced the Cutter and the steer in Monrovia in chestnut and buckskin. At the start, the HR order form calls it, "Quarter Horse and Rider" #B-689.

Fall 1958 order form

The Monrovia colors of chestnut and buckskin were made Fall 1958-1962,

matte black during San Dimas: 1962ish* to Spring 1966,

and as mold # 23, in glossy and matte buckskin during San Marcos, Fall 1981-Spring 1986.

A major difference in the San Marcos mold is that the rider was molded separately, and slip-stuck onto the horse's saddle. There is a tiny gap of light to be seen between the rider's bum and the saddle seat. This is a no-no, in real life. Sit down, man!

Model courtesy Jayne Kubas.

You can view all of the normal factory versions of the Cutter here. Because I never focus strictly on the normal, this post features two different versions that are both factory incomplete, missing decoration.

At first glance, this matte buckskin San Marcos Cutter looks fine. He was sold as a first quality, and has beautiful body shading and sharply-painted details.

Model courtesy Jayne Kubas.

Then, you take a closer look at Buzz. He is as gray as the real Buzz would have been when this San Marcos model was issued!

Model courtesy Jayne Kubas.

This rider's hair was forgotten by the underglaze decorator. This is particularly odd, since they remembered to decorate the hat's band, and the band looks like the same underglaze color as used for the hair on normal examples. This Buzz has been buzzed.

Model courtesy Jayne Kubas.

A little gray hair is no big deal; after all, aging is better than the alternative.

Speaking of which, meet "Ghost Rider".

Model courtesy Jo Ellen Arnold.

This is a San Dimas Cutter second, originally from the collection of a former HR employee. This Buzz never saw decoration beyond the spray for his flesh tone. 

Model courtesy Jo Ellen Arnold.

This a fascinating peek into the decoration process of a very complex model from HR. The saddle, clothing, features were all hand-applied by brush, as opposed to quickly airbrushed like ther flesh and horse color. With a fine brush, the decorator could delineate the fingers separately from the denim thigh. This factory oddity, fondly known as "Ghost Rider" to his current owner and at the model horse shows, wasn't stopped at just the airbrushing stage. 

Model courtesy Jo Ellen Arnold.

There is sort of a parallel between these unfinished Cutters, and the unfinished story of Buzz and his horse. I still hope to hear from Mr. Nichols some day, and complete the story. For now, the identities of the three players in the drama- horse, rider, steer- are revealed.

HR issued completely different Love molds depicting this sport, as Specialty line models. The "Cutting Horse" #3214 and the "Cutting Steer" #3216 were made Fall 1996 to Fall 1999. It appears there is an error in the Handbook citing that the steer continued to at least 2003 ("present"), but I may just have a lapse in available reference materials?

I hope you enjoyed learning that there were real, live identities behind these handsome ceramic models. 

Thank you to Jo Ellen Arnold and to Jayne Kubas, for letting me photograph their HRs in their homes! Thank you, Denise, for the letter from Mr. Nichols. Thank you, Dawn Sinkovich, for letting me browse the Love sketchbook photo archive.

UPDATE: Thank you, Ed Alcorn, for sharing your letter from Mr. Nichols, and his photos.

* The Cutter remains on the order forms, without a color choice, for the entire duration of the factory lay-off and move, from 1960-1962. There is no way to for me to make a distinction for the exact date the matte black appeared, without a dated receipt of when a dealer's order arrived.


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

Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Catalogue. Third Edition. Pp. 84, 489. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Muddy Monday: A Zara of Two Tales

If you have been reading this blog from the early posts, you probably have an idea where this one is going. As in A Tale of Two Zaras, it's going to be rife with photos of a paradoxically unattractive example of one of the most beautiful horse sculptures ever designed. Caution: this may cause some discomfort or cringing. If you have a Hagen-Renaker #B-655 large Zara of any description, vintage or reissue, this will probably make you appreciate yours more, and give you a glimpse into the process. 

It was the best of molds, it was the worst of decoration.

OK, she's rather pretty in this photograph. And, as usual, I absolutely love this piece, and I am so enthused to share my interpretation of her process artifacts with you. 

First, a bit about the provenance, which gives a context for how this piece was made. This unique Zara originated from a collection found in an attic, in a forgotten box, after the rest of the household had been cleared out, and the owners were gone. In that same box, there were some very crisp examples of Monrovia horses, although they were not all perfect factory examples. One was a DW Lippizaner with bisque firing-warped legs, no eye decoration, shading wiped off a foreleg, and a ceramic base mold not known to be produced by the factory. The current owner told me that a longtime HR restorer recognized the glaze on the base as HR factory. 

Photo and model courtesy Ed Alcorn.

It's pretty clear that the Lippizaner was a factory second, probably rescued by an HR employee because of his lovely mold detail. It seems less likely to have been a retail purchase from a box of sold-by-the-pound factory seconds, because it (and the others) all have their limbs. You can just imagine what happened to legs when these things were thrown into boxes! The fact that the base is ceramic, with a hole to fit the Lippizaner's peg, in a factory glaze, also points to a factory employee. It seems like a lot of bother for a home ceramist/hobbyist with a purchased factory second, although that is a possibility to keep in mind.

Ed Alcorn purchased the entire attic collection, and advertised a few of the normal Monrovia models for sale on the breakables yahoogroup. At the end of his sales list, nearly a post-script:

"I also have a large glossy white Zara that is a faker that I plan to sell.  I don’t know what to ask but I would listen to any offers.  Shipping is extra."

Of course, this description caught my eye. I collect copies of HRs, and I am building a comparison group of authentic HR Zaras. In the collecting world, this is fondly referred to as a "conga line" of one mold. Ed sent the Zara photos on request, and even sent some of the Lippizaner for interpretation. I picked my jaw up off my desk, and told him what I thought the Zara really was, based on what I could see in the photos: a real factory second, customized by an employee. He still wanted this Zara to go to my collection, so PayPal was sent, and the rest is history. She arrived well packed, in a custom-cut foam double-box, just a couple days later. I'd like to say a big "Thank You" to Ed for this piece!

What else could she be, besides a real HR horse? How do we know she's not a fake?

Excerpt from Shirmar order sheet.
Image from Benuish 1, originally from the files of Nancy Falzone.

Decades ago, and for a very short time, a company called "Shirmar" made unglazed castings of several HR DW molds, including large Zara. They were identical in size to HR's finished products because the HR foreman provided Shirmar with the HR molds, and his personal permission, to make them. This was done without consulting the Renakers, and they subsequently requested all the molds back. 2

This explains why no generational size loss has been recorded in Shirmars; they were all first gen. Some were allegedly plaster castings, but some were cast in ceramic and fired to bisque. I have handled a Shirmar that was identified in one HR book as plaster, but it was actually bisque. Collector Laura Behning had a complete family set of Shirmar's renditions of Amir, Zara, and Zilla, and confirmed that they were hollow ceramic, not plaster. 

Shirmar's castings were made for the hobby painting market, just as holiday-themed white bisque and plaster sculptures are sold today, by craft supply shops. However, a telltale sign of a bisque Shirmar is a huge, unplugged pour hole in the belly.

I popped the contrast on this Shirmar photo, so you can see the roughness of the body.
HRs were produced with greater care.

Several HR molds are known to have been copied by ceramic hobby mold companies, such as Duncan, so there might very well be home-cast Zaras out in the world. If a large Zara hobby mold exists, these would be a mold generation removed, and thus would be noticeably smaller and lacking detail.

Duncan casting mold copies of the HR DW Mule and the HR Miniatures line Arabian stallion.
Original packaging of a Duncan copycat mold.
It is unknown if a large Zara copy mold exists, but they copied the 6" small walking Zara.

In Monrovia, Zara was produced in two colors: white gray and rose gray. The slip base color for the white was white, and the rose gray had a tinted slip. The unsightly pour holes were plugged and smoothed over; then, a small hole was cut, to allow gas transfer from the hollow body, during firings. In Monrovia Zara, this was usually on the underside of the chest, between the forelegs. A good way to tell if a Zara was cast at HR, is to compare both her standing height and belly with a real HR Zara.

This appears to have been cast at the HR factory, and is clearly not a Shirmar bisque. What would prevent a casting from being decorated and completed at HR?

Demolding, or pulling a damp clay casting from a mold, can result in small twists, warps, tugs, and other flaws to the soft material. The legitimate HR Monrovia white Zara, in the foreground, has one tipped-forward and shortened ear that apparently was considered not enough of a flaw to hold her back. The other white casting, however, has two tipped ears. 

Depending on when the flaw was caught in the process, and on how dry the casting was at demolding, there is a narrow timeframe where tugged or tipped ears can be corrected, without the clay disintegrating from a re-wetting, or breaking off entirely. Speed was important, and one would not want to spend 30 minutes slowly re-wetting ears just to soften them back to a posable texture... or another 30 for adding slip, letting it dry, and re-sculpting new ear tips, entirely!

What other factory process artifacts can back up the provenance that this was a Monrovia factory second?

1. Factory worker engraved initials in hoof soles. It's normal for HRs of the same mold to have initials that are on all different hooves, or even duplicate on the same horse.

2. Specks in the white slip body. Same colors of specks and same size/concentration... very likely the same slip formula. These specks also indicate that we are looking at the naked white slip under clear glaze, and not white underglaze sprayed over a greenware body, then glossed. Also, not dipped in white art glaze (like the unicorn at the top of this blog).

3. Characteristics of the gloss glaze.

Why is the glossy more yellow than than the legit matte white? 

HR gloss glaze often had a slight yellow tinge to it, and this can be seen in the deeper detail areas of a Monrovia glossy anything. It's possible that the yellow tint of their clear gloss glaze varied from batch to batch, perhaps with each stirring, and age or contamination of the vat. Because Zara in Monrovia only came in matte, there are no other glossy examples of this mold and factory era to compare. The best I can do is show you how her gloss clear glaze compares to known Monrovia gloss white horses. Interesting how these guys also have starkly decorated hooves.

The Miniature Draft Horse in harness, and the plumed head-up circus pony (mate to pony above) were made at the same time as white Monrovia Zara. The plumed head-down circus pony preceded Zara by a year, but remains a good comparison because the same decoration was used on the head-up circus pony. Consider what a short time Monrovia white Zara was made, then appreciate this tight sample of her contemporaries.

Monrovia white Zara: 1957, spring 1958
Monrovia white draft in harness: 1957
Monrovia plumed head-up circus pony: Fall 1955- spring 1957
Monrovia plumed head-down circus pony: Fall 1955-Spring 1956

Between the timeline and the side-by-side comparison, wow.

Monrovia did not issue large Zara in gloss, but San Marcos did. How do we know this isn't a San Marcos gloss white Zara? Besides the fact that she came out of a legacy box of 1950's Monrovia horses, the white gloss here is from the original old mold version, not the retooled 1980's San Marcos mold (palomino example).

The Palomino shows how a San Marcos belly is plugged and ventilated in the groin.
The SM test Liver's belly was done exactly like this Palomino.

Finally, a San Dimas bay Zara belly, with a medium-size, unplugged pour hole.
Photo and model courtesy Jo Ellen Arnold.

Another San Dimas bay ("brown") Zara, so you know it's not a fluke.
Photo and model courtesy Ed Alcorn.

The Palomino and test Liver Chestnut gloss show the typical San Marcos age and glaze fit crackle pattern. 
The white gloss is crackled far more than these. Her crackle looks like the two Monrovia gloss minis.

Why gloss? HR had both clear matte and clear gloss glaze vats in use during Monrovia. An employee making their own custom on a second-quality body would only have to dryfoot the model, dunk in the glaze vat of their choice, set the piece on a kiln shelf for the glaze firing, and collect their treasure after the kiln cooled. I'm guessing that to make a Zara different and satisfy the customizing urge, one would choose the gloss, without a second thought. It is the simplest way to make a Zara unique from her dozens of twin sisters.

Couldn't a home ceramist have purchased hobby gloss glaze, and home-fired a bisque second? Yes. But, how would this person have acquired a bisque second, if they were not a factory employee? I haven't heard of bisque seconds being sold by the factory, only glazed seconds to a few dealers. A few (some with seams intact!) bisques have made it to collector hands via reps/dealers, the sale of the San Marcos factory inventory, HR book authors, and Marney Walerius (via Breyer). These sources seem unlikely for this particular Zara, boxed up who-knows-how-long, from a collection of Monrovia. 

Another thought: If you were an employee, why go to the bother to tediously hand-brush on glaze and fire at home (if you have a kiln), when you can just dip and fire at work, where factory customs on seconds were not discouraged? There are quite a few examples of factory employee customs in collector hands, finished inside the factory, using factory materials.

Down to the distilled point: I have never seen another glossy Monrovia large Zara. If you have one, please speak up.

Now, let's examine the odd decoration on the hooves, eyes, ears, and nostrils. It has a dulled surface, but does not peel up under the fingernail, like one might expect of unfired, cold paints. It feels like it was swiped over the top of the glaze. It is obvious the material was unsuccessful in this application, because it's all swirly and runny.

There was a drip of this on the side of the body, where I attempted to remove it with water, rubbing alcohol, and brisk rubbing. It would not budge. If it was dirt or cold paint, this would have come right off.

I then caught a glimmer of mother of pearl luster, on a hoof. It shows in the photo above as a smattering of pale aqua. This stuff was overglaze decoration. It appears it either was not fired at the correct temperature, not applied in the correct amount, or it was a formula that became contaminated. It is very easy to contaminate a luster by reusing brushes or cleaning fluid that was used with any other color of overglaze, ever, in its life. I don't think it was a glaze incompatibility, because so many other pieces were perfectly overglazed with this clear gloss.

Now, I am wracking my brain, trying to recall if any Monrovia HRs ever were produced with mother-of-pearl overglaze. I can't think of a single one! Was the material ever on hand at the factory in that era? Many post-Monrovia products were produced with this effect, applied and fired successfully. If nothing in Monrovia had mother-of-pearl, then I would say at least the overglazing was done at home by the employee, or the overglaze was brought from home. It might have fired in a factory overglaze load, but I'm not sure if that would not have been yet another risk of cross-contamination from the fumes of the heating overglazes.

If one was going to do a fantasy finish, mother-of-pearl-accented Zara, it makes sense that one would eschew the gray underglaze shading. Realism is not the aim, here. There is a certain decorative purity aesthetic of white with pearl (as shown on the Love mystery horse A-9). Gray shading with mother-of-pearl on top, especially the eyes, would not have been a good look. Perhaps, I should say, it would be a significantly worse look.

Have you ever seen anything like this horse?

From a faker, to the only gloss Monrovia Zara, to a factory custom... this one may have more than two tales to tell.


Behning, Laura. Pers. comm. email January 10, 2012.

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

2. Berkwitz, Joan, et al. The Hagen-Renaker Handbook. p. 72. Self-published. Carlsbad, CA: 1989.

Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Catalogue. Third Edition. Pp. 69, 294, 296. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.