Monday, December 30, 2013

Muddy Monday: Meet Sue Thiessen, Artist and Restorer

The first time I heard of Sue Thiessen's work was about twenty years ago, when I was a beginner collector of Designer's Workshop Hagen-Renaker. By then, Sue was known as a leading restoration artist of Hagen-Renakers, and among the first to cast replacements for missing legs. Most restorers built replacement legs from Gapoxio, or transplanted Breyer legs from the same molds. 

The piece of Sue's work that most impressed me was a DW foal. Joan Berkwitz had been gifted a Scamper from the HR archives that was missing two legs (color plate 54, in the first edition HR handbook).  

Joan sent this piece to be restored by Sue, around 1989. This fixed Scamper represents the Scamper mold, photographed anew, in the later editions of the Handbook. I purchased the Scamper, and to this day, her replaced legs are show quality. This inspired me to try my hand at restorations. I have always wanted to meet the artist who did it.

Scamper, as she is today, with Sue's restoration work.

I recently had an opportunity to interview Sue and share it on this blog. I did not know that Sue started out as a 2D artist, then became a model horse customizer and restorer.

Trainer George Dines and his champion cutting horse mare.

 This watercolor is a portrait of one of her Saddlebred foals. 
Sue and her husband Paul raised American Saddlebreds for over 20 years.

"Old Friends"

"Big Red", portrait of Sue's husband's horse

Do you sell your 2D paintings or prints?

Yes, I sold many western and wildlife paintings over the years, and kept only a select few.

Do you come from a family of collectors of objects?

Actually I come from a long line of artists, on my Dad's side of the Mom collected tea pots and hummels.

HR DW test tabby on the "Tom" mold #B-631, owned and photo by Sue Thiessen.
This came from a factory employee.

What was your first ceramic model?

There were several as a child, but the one I remember most, was a beautiful Hagen Renaker white Roan Lady, I saved my allowance for weeks to buy.

How often do you add to your collection?

I just added a gorgeous Sespe, after wanting one for 25 years! hadn't added anything new for 6 years, so don't add to my collection often.

HR DW test Standing Arabian "Abdullah". 
This model has an unusual color shifts under different lighting. 
You will see all of these images in a future blog post.
Photo, leg restorations, and owned by Sue Thiessen.

Is your collection specialized by factory, designer, species, breed, or clay type?

My collection is Hagen Renaker only, with the Horses being my favorites, Arabians, Saddlebreds,  and Tennessee Walkers.

Do you keep all of it on display, or do you rotate pieces out of boxes/storage? If you rotate, do you display in seasonal themes?

I keep it all on display in 4 cabinets.

How did you get started doing restorations?

It all started after we moved to California for a short time in the early 80's. While going through shops looking for models, I found out about some other collectors in the area. I purchased a beautiful Hagen Renaker Lippizan from one of these collectors, that was badly broken 8 breaks! I found out about a restorer in the area, so took the Lippizan to him for repair. When I got him back, the repair was ok, but the paint job over the repair was not good!! I told my husband, I think I could have done better! After acquiring more broken Hagen Renakers I decided to see if I could restore them, so I went back to the restorer, and paid him to teach me his method, and then I was able to use my own artistic ability, with a lot of experimenting and practice to restore my Hagens...soon after, I was doing repair for other collectors....

Photo by Ed Alcorn

Restoration and photo by Sue Thiessen

Where do you get your inspiration for customs?

When I was doing customs, my inspiration came from Hagen Renaker's method and colors.

HR factory bisque Zara, painted in acrylic lacquers.
The HR decoration technique is evident in this lovely custom model.
Photo and custom by Sue Thiessen.
Owned by Sharon Carabajal.

What paint type do you use for customs or restorations?

I use acrylic lacquer.

Do you ever fire restorations in a kiln? It was rumored that you were the only restorer doing kiln-fired mends, back in the 90's.

No, I do not fire restorations in a kiln. They are heated in a special cabinet, but not a kiln. Some of my customs, that were china painted, were fired in a kiln.

How do you make replacement parts for missing limbs?

I cast replacement legs in a special molding powder, mixed with epoxy, very ceramic like, only much stronger, pretty much unbreakable.

What was your favorite or most uplifting piece to restore?

There have been so many through the years, but I would have to say probably the San Dimas brown Zara for Jo Ellen Arnold, with all her breaks and cracks in the body, definitely one of the most difficult! But after,...she was so beautiful!! Or the black cutter I did for her, with all the missing parts, holes in the body of the cowboy, missing arm, legs and tail gone from the horse etc.

"Ghost Rider", the black Cutter Sue restored for Jo Ellen Arnold.

Your favorite custom model?

My favorite was a "Made With Love" Clydesdale, I remade into a Gypsy Vanner horse, and named him " Kalender ".

Kalender, custom and photos by Sue Thiessen.
Owned by Jenny Palmer.

Do you participate in the model horse hobby? Any shows or Breyerfest?

My participation is through my restoration work, I attended Breyerfest twice in the mid 90's. 

How do you find or acquire most of your models? Do you shop on eBay, or go to fleamarkets?

I used to have great luck finding rare Breyers in antique shops, Flea markets etc., and the model friends I made in California, collected turn they would find Hagen Renakers, and not wanting anything to do with china horses, we were able to do a lot of trading through the years....I also would trade restoration work for models...
I once walked into an antique shop,which was over the border in Oregon. After seeing the usual plastic horses, Breyer, Hartland, I was walking out the door, when the dealer asked me what I was looking for...I told her "ceramic Horses" and she said wait a minute...she then called to her husband, who came walking down the stairs with a Bedouin in his hand!! I nearly had a heart attack! then she proceeded to tell me, she knew nothing about these Horses with the State of California stickers on them, so she didn't want to sell the model, till she did some research on it...After looking over the model, I pointed out that something was missing { rifle was gone, and tassels on the bridle } so after almost having to get down on my knees and beg, she finally agreed to sell me the Horse { I wasn't going out of there without it!} then her husband came down the stairs again, with a beautiful rose grey small Amir, so I was able to acquire him too...then, to make things even more exciting, she told me there had been an estate sale, and that the dealers just down the road had gotten a lot of Horses...I couldn't get there fast enough!! I walked into that next shop, and there before my eyes, were shelves all around lined with Horses!! dozens, and dozens of them!!! Breyers, Hartlands, and Hagen Renakers!! two young girls were minding the store for their parents, who had a used car lot next door...I started picking Horses off the shelves, and those young girls ran out the door yelling "mom some lady is buying all the horses!!" This was an experience I will never forget, I was like a child in a candy store!!!!!, after loading the car { thank goodness it was an SUV with a lot of room } and driving off, I actually had to pull over to the side of the road, and look back to make sure I wasn't dreaming!! I was able to trade a lot of Breyers and Hartlands { 50's models most with original boxes } for Hagen Renakers, besides the wonderful ones I had gotten in this collection.....
I have shopped ebay some, my beautiful white Monrovia zara came from ebay, she was found at a church rummage sale, on the toy table priced at .10 unbelievable!!!

I love stories like that! Is there a particular model you've sold or no longer have, but would like to replace? 

Due to circumstances over the years, I did part with some models I regret selling or trading. That would be Roan Lady in San Dimas Grey, and my Nataf...I had a glossy Nataf, but, preferred one in matte finish, so traded the glossy, figuring I would replace it someday with a matte one, and was never able to do that.

What would you like to see change in the ceramic production and collecting world? 

I think things are great as they are, would be nice to see a Breyerfest in the Midwest, closer to me!

Glossy or matte?


Base or no base?

No base

DW or Miniatures?


Action pose or standing?


What are your goals for the new year, in your art and collecting fancy?

My goal would be to continue restoring these beautiful Hagen Renakers to their former beauty, which gives me great pleasure, and the important part making collectors happy to have their models restored! 

Sue and her Saddlebred mare, Bandit's Little Celebration

Thank you Sue, for participating in the interview, and giving collectors an idea of how and where your art developed. Your restoration work has impacted so many collectors, and kept the ceramic artworks alive and displayed with Love.

*The foal mold comparison is a topic for another day. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Muddy Monday: It's Package Open(ing) Season

Today's post is a lighthearted look at every collector's worst nightmare: obscenely bad packing of a fragile item. Most experienced collectors have, at some time or another, received a box that makes their blood run cold. They recycle that which should stay in the recycle bin. They employ the unconventional. They modify that which should not be forced to conform...

This is an example of good packing that was mishandled by the carrier service.
Submitted by Diana Dubbeld

To start off, I'll share the one that made me think this needed to be a post. A friend of mine was in the midst of a household move, and she had international eBay boxes shipped to my studio, for safe arrival. When the box arrived, I immediately photographed it.

"This came for you, today. Box looks a bit dodgy."


Her reply is not fit for print, and I concurred. I told her she'd have to open it herself, I was tapping o-u-t. That's right, a scarce-color German porcelain horse was shipped overseas in a bent-and-broken-down vacuum cleaner box. I'd guess it was about 40% under the size that it should have been. To save weight, the box wasn't broken down in a symmetrical fashion. One flap was slightly loose in the tape department. It looked like someone kneed the box into shape. Yes, I mean, with their knee.

The inner box was slightly smaller than this, with nothing but newspaper wads and barely any clearance around the delicate, sticky-outy bits of the piece. Watching her open it was like watching a horror movie, but there was no Pause button!

Despite the long journey, the horse emerged unscathed. 

This sweet Adelaide donkey made "a run for The Border", as the old slogan goes. Plus 100 points for creative recycling? 

Submitted by Jessica Fry

We all know how much cats love cardboard boxes. Something tells me that ceramic cats have a slightly different relationship with them.

Submitted by Julie Harris

This next one reminds me of a Love H-1 Rearing Right horse that arrived with his free foreleg sticking out, through the cardboard box wall. It was as if the leg was waving "Hello!" at my husband, when he found the box on our doorstep. It was a single box, and the horse was pressure-fit inside. He was sure it would be destroyed, so he opened it to check it. It was fine, but only then did he tell me how it had arrived. He spared my heart the undue panic! But, that was a $12 horse....

Imagine paying a considerable sum, in the four digits, for a rare Hagen-Renaker on eBay, and then you receive this:

Submitted by Ed Alcorn

I know! Just pop the head through the inner box, that will hold it in place.

It makes one want to reach for the Pepto-Bismal... I feel ill.

Tifffany Tran shares stories:

I purchased a traditional scale clinky on eBay several years ago. How it survived the mail is a miracle to me. The box it was shipped in was big enough, true, however, the seller had only used two sheets of glossy advertising newspaper to wrap the horse. That's it. No foam, no bubble wrap, nothing else. The horse and the paper sheets were flopping around inside the box the entire time. Again, sheer miraculous luck it survived.
   Another time I purchased a larger-than-trad scale porcelain horse. The lady assured me she would pack it most carefully. When it arrived, the horse was in utter shambles - every part that one might expect to break had been broken at least once. Oh, the horse was packed with care - using nothing but tissue paper and a large flimsy shoe box wrapped in brown paper. When I confronted the seller about the packing she claimed that she had always packed things that way and nothing had ever broken in the mail before. Oi.

My own worst Goodwill Online experience was a crisp Hydrostone copy of a P.J. Mene horse. I looked forward to having it as a study model in my studio. The selling store location dropped it into a box, then closed it by pressing his ears through the top flaps to "hold" him in place. Like pegs! A couple wads of newspaper were kicking around in there with him, but he wasn't packed in any sense of the word. Despite his rebar armature cast into the plaster, he was just shards from the elbows down. Enlarge for detail, if you dare:

Fortunately, I only paid $5 + shipping for him.
Unfortunately, finding a replacement under $200 is impossible.

What does appropriate packing look like? For fragile items, it has a greater chance of survival if packed in soft foam. Styrofoam foam panels are too rigid, unless they are custom-molded styrofoam inserts for that exact product. The soft, flexible foam used for upholstery and shipping delicate computer components (although ceramics don't need the blue static-free stuff) is preferred for shipping ceramics.

This soft foam comes as either "eggcrate" or "convoluted" foam sheets, scored "pick-apart" sheets (as in gun cases), or flat foam sheets.

Convoluted or eggcrate foam

Flat foam sheets that have been cut to form.

These Okapi are shown here only a quarter of the way through the packing process. They got four more custom-cut layers of foam, then each box was sealed, and packed with Pelaspan (Styrofoam peanuts) in a larger outer box.

No matter what packing your ceramics arrive in, be sure to consider the temperatures. At this time of year, don't forget to let freshly-delivered clinky packages come up to room temp over a few hours, before you open them. Extreme cold temperatures can lead to temperature shock, when the warm room air hits the ceramic and abnormal stresses (such as unwrapping) are put to the cold ceramic.

May all your clinky gifts be well-packed, safe from carrier drops, and reflecting all the wonderful twinkling lights. Happy Holidays!

Thank you to all who submitted material for this post!

Monday, December 2, 2013

UPDATED Muddy Monday: Chestnuts Roasting

It's now after Thanksgiving, so I have no qualms about a Christmas carol snippet in the title. Today's main feature is a large mold that few have seen in person. It was sculpted for Hagen-Renaker, but rejected for production. It has been rehashed and even copied, and mass-produced in those iterations, but the original design has yet to be known beyond two castings that the artist decorated herself.

His name is Abu Farwa. One could translate the name a couple ways, but it is most likely a misspelling of the term "abo farwa", which is the fruit-nut of the chestnut tree. If you take the words abu and farwa separately, they mean "father" and a feminine name derived from the term for "fur". Just guessing by the real horse's coloring, the actual intended meaning is that of the chestnut nut.

UPDATE: Several helpful collectors with the book by Gladys Brown Edwards have informed me that she named the real Abu Farwa, and her translation was "Father of Chestnuts". Thank you all for writing!

UPDATE II: Sally Clow informed me that Abu Farwa's full sister, Rossletta, was a chestnut brindle. She was described as "gray" for lack of a better word for it, but was clearly not gray. As an adult horse, she was a bright chestnut brindle. 

One source says she was "sold without papers", while another says she was denied papers. Some say it was because the breeder did not want it the brindle traced back to them. If you look at photos of their dam, Rissletta, you'll notice she has the same white cap to her tail, like a rabicano. 

Model courtesy Elizabeth Bouras.
Photos by author.

I estimate that this 8" tall portrait was sculpted c. 1954- early 1955. Maureen had originally sculpted it for submission to Hagen-Renaker's Designer's Workshop line. Instead, the #B-621 Abu Farwa, a balking, turned-head pose, was selected for release in Fall 1955, and produced in non-portrait white-gray. When Maureen glazed her own copy of the approved balking Abu Farwa, she made him a chestnut portrait of the real horse (scroll down). An artist's vision is enduring!

Collectors know this prancing fellow as the Alternate Abu Farwa, or Large Abu Farwa. He does not have a mold number because he was never added to the HR moldbook. 

The real Abu Farwa was a very famous chestnut Arabian stallion. His influence in the Arabian breed in America is no small thing. Less well known is the fact that he was the sire of the original TV series' My Friend Flicka (registered as Wahana). I certainly don't want to make light of the real horse's importance, or make this a blog about horse breeding history, so I'm going to just focus on the portrait. There's so much more out there that I can't begin to address.

Model courtesy Elizabeth Bouras.
Photos by author.

This particular piece came from Maureen's own collection and transferred to a collector during her lifetime. This was not an estate sale item. When that collector sold the piece in February 1993, it moved to the East Coast. Almost a decade later later, the new owner flew it out with her to a California ceramic model horse show, where Maureen was a guest. The Abu's owner, Elizabeth Bouras, took this photo:

Maureen Love and her chestnut Abu Farwa
Bring Out Your Chinas show 2002.

Some of this horse's glaze features are seen on other horses by Maureen. The way she glazed the eyes, on her earliest pieces, was a bit stark between pupil, iris, and sclera. In some, the brown iris has brushstrokes and white showing through. It doesn't look like HR factory decoration.

Transparent brown iris.
Note this a much darker shade of brown than the HR factory iris color.

Another feature of the chestnut is the presence of hair detailing in the mane and tail. This was not done on HR models of the same era.

Model courtesy Elizabeth Bouras.
Photos by author.

Her matte glaze had a tendency to produce "crawl" in its surface, in deeper pooled areas or thickened "drip" areas. I have had the good fortune to handle a number of her personal custom glazed works, over the years, and each realistic matte one she glazed has this, including a DW Toulouse Goose. 

Model courtesy Brona Hicks.
Photos by author.

The glaze crawl, while unknown if it is unique to her glaze vat, has become a helpful confirmation in identifying pieces. I haven't found it on HR factory issue mattes of the same era.

Hey! Who is this other horse in the comparison photos?

This is the only other known example of the Alternate Abu Farwa, a dapple gray by Maureen.

Photos and model courtesy Jeanene Bernardin.
I had to brighten and contrast these old photo prints for this post. 

As rare as he is, you may find this horse very familiar. In 1994, HR produced a similar horse, a fraction of his size, as a direct-to-collectors limited edition. This 5.5" model was the second such offering for collectors, and was called "Encore". He was produced in (non-portrait) chestnut, white-gray, bay, and dapple gray. The dapple gray was a little more costly, because each one was to be dappled by Maureen, herself. None of the small Encore dapple grays come close to representing the Abu above. Laurilyn Burson produced Encore for HR, under contract.

This bay was one of Laurilyn's, a holdback because he had lines of slip pigment, almost like woodgraining. This can happen when the slip is not thoroughly blended, and the tint pigments swirl in layers, instead of a perfect unified color.

After HR released Encore, Renaker family members produced a similar design, sculpted by Jose Garcia, in their Loza Electrica factory in Mexico. This factory produced factory glazed runs, and even some bisques, for the collector market. Later, the Loza molds changed hands a few times. The bisque below dates to the third molds' owner, Kylee Demers.

Here you can see how the two small molds differentiate. The Loza is not an exact copy.

It is possible that there are more large Alternate Abu Farwa out there in the world. After all, Maureen had the mold and the technology to produce them. If you see or learn about any others, please share.

Roasted chestnuts, or, more like kiln-roasted... Happy Holidays!


Arnold, Jo Ellen. Pers. comm. Copy of letter from the February 1993 sale of a collection of horses glazed by Maureen Love. 

Clow, Sally. Pers. comm. January 2014.

Roller, Gayle. Hagen-Renaker: A Charlton Standard Catalogue. Third Edition. Pp. 71, 72, 582. The Charlton Press: Palm Harbor, FL, 2003.