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. 


  1. Sue has done some incredible work for me, particularly restoring a beautiful old large Zara that was in maybe nine pieces, but had great sentimental value. Absolutely undetectable repairs. Greetings, Sue!
    Katie Richards

    1. Oh hi Katie!!! so great to hear from you, how are you? I remember this zara, and I remember you entered her in the restored catagory at the break a leg live show in 2003, and she won the top prize, which you sent to me, I will always treasure it.....Sue