Monday, January 20, 2014

Zara 3: Electric Bisque-a-loo

The occasional "What is this?" email about an HR finds its way to the inbox, now that the blog is nearing its fourth year. This Zara post sequel began with an email from Sue Thiessen about a mini drafter, and you can just imagine how my brain popped when I read this:

I've also been meaning to contact you about a 9" bisque Zara I acquired many years ago. A friend in Calif. purchased 2 large Zaras, a Crusader, gloss palomino Clover, and an Adelaide from an antique dealer who purchased them at an estate sale in Arizona, just over the border from Monrovia, Calif. I bought the Zaras from her, which were cold painted, and was so excited to get that paint off, only to discover bisque underneath!! One Zara had a leg break, so I repaired it, put a custom paint job on her, and sold her. I kept the other Zara which was mint, the two were identical incredible detail! The broken Zara had the small airhole between the front legs, but this one I kept has a huge hole in the belly, which would make one think it was a Shirmar, but I don't think so, as the slip is just like HR quality... too good for anything else I think. The horse also has the letters cee zee carved into the belly, I believe a factory employee took these Zaras home, or someone got ahold of some bisques, took them home and painted them to look like their horses.

Photo by Sue Thiessen

To clarify, just because something came from near the geographical place of Monrovia, CA, doesn't automatically make it HR Monrovia era. In collecting Hagen-Renaker, it refers to a factory production period; it is a time, not just a space, thing. However, this was a Monrovia era collection. The broken cold-painted Zara had a normal Monrovia vent hole, in the underside of the chest. The other had no chest vent, and an unplugged pour hole.

Photo by Sue Thiessen

If you read A Zara of Two Tales, you might leap to discard any possibility of the unplugged Zara bisque being a genuine HR. First, a little inspection: this one was poured into a dusty or dirty mold, which fairly ruined it for potential glazed product. (It also made it undesirable to sell as a hobby craft blank, had it been a Shirmar.) Its condition as a second was determined when the caster removed the first piece of the plaster mold, before the belly was ever plugged. The torso surface is pocked with holes, which would only make decoration and glazing a nightmare. Any airbrushed color would skim across the surface, leaving white holes in the gray shading (since this was poured to be a White Gray). Every divot in the clay would later enable the development of a glaze pinhole, in the final firing. 

Photo by Sue Thiessen

To illustrate and magnify why surface divots create glaze pinholes, I used a brown paint bottle to weigh down a white plastic cap in the middle of a tray. Imagine that the white cap is a divot in the bisque surface. I added water to the tray, to simulate glaze, both when it is raw liquid in the dipping vat, and when it is free-flowing and seeking its own level during firing. During the dip, if the glaze was water-clear, one would see tiny air bubbles hugging each hole in the surface, preventing raw liquid glaze from filling them. After it dried, all those divots would be tiny holes in the glaze, "pinholes". Surface tension around the edges of the crater prevents the glaze from creeping in, filling, and smoothing out over the crater. Glaze also behaves this way on vertical surfaces. The surface tension of liquified glaze, while firing, will do this around each hole (or crack) in the clay surface. This is why ceramists have to take special pains with bisque bodies that have imperfections, carefully filling a crack or pinhole with glaze in minute, razor-blade applications. A giftware production pottery has no time to waste on such pains!

Thus, a first glance at this Zara, as she was demolding, set her destiny as a second. An employee, possibly "Cee Vee", rescued, reattached a broken hind leg, seamed, and bisque-fired it. It also has the Monrovia right-side face muzzle "ring", a line in the mold that appears in only some Monrovia Zara castings. I suspect that it was a single damaged production mold that had this flaw, used for white slip, since I haven't seen a rose gray with the pronounced muzzle line mold defect. 

Even a very crisp rose gray shows no hint of mold line defect.
Do you have a rose gray Zara with the defect?

Monrovia white with muzzle mold defect line.
Photo courtesy Val Tudor.

Another example of a Monrovia white with the muzzle line.
Photo and owned by unknown, from eBay, years ago.

White and rose gray slip ideally would have been poured in different production molds, to prevent cross-contamination (staining) of the slip colors. If it was a Shirmar, it would have been molded from the perfect master, no muzzle line (see here as to why). Collector Laura Behning, who had a set of all three Shirmar family Arabians, confirms that this was absent on the Shirmar Zara.

Photo by Sue Thiessen

Photo left by author; photo right by Sue.

Sue wrote:
I find it hard to believe though, that one bisque would be an HR and the other not, since they came together, and were identical. 

I agree, and it is further hinted by the Monrovia provenance of the entire group in which it was purchased. When I mentioned the muzzle line as proof of Monrovia, Sue wrote:

On her left rear leg, there is an extra line that shouldn't be there.... My glazed Monrovia white Zara has the same line around her muzzle too, I wonder how many are like that.....

This, too, would make a fresh casting a second before its belly got plugged.
A mended greenware break, bisque fired.
One can immediately tell that is not the hand of Maureen in that tendon.

Slip "chill" lines, visible from below (nose line is less noticeable from this angle).
These are more noticeable on tinted slips in HR Monrovia pieces, 
but chill lines can be found in all factory eras (and all potteries).

Slip chill lines and sponge swipes (from greenware cleaner).

Slip chill lines, and debris in mold when casting was poured.
Organic debris will burn out in the bisque firing, leaving holes.

There was a momentary excitement when Sue had mistakenly typed "cee zee" as the belly inscription. The employee custom white gloss Monrovia Zara has the initials "CZ" carved in a hoof. For a minute there, I thought the same employee rescued both my Zara, and Sue's!

Photo by author

 Sue wrote: I was wrong about the initials too, they are "cee vee".

The brown color in the divots and inscription is what is left of the coldpaint.

I am not fond of unpainted models, so either I paint this Zara, the [primer] would fill in the flaws, or part with her to someone who appreciates bisque models, and would love and treasure her! like you!!!! 
....the only thing that makes it hard to part with Zara, is I got her from a very dear friend, who recently passed away from cancer, Arlene Winter...I think I already said it, but Arlene got the Zara's along with other HR's from a dealer, who had gotten them from an estate sale, near Monrovia Calif. Arlene lived in Fresno Calif. and I was living in Madera, just a few miles away, around 1986... Arlene was the first friend I made, when we moved to Calif. and we went on to be very close. She was a sweet, wonderful person, and I miss her so much!!! I think of her, when I look at Zara, she would be happy to see you have her though, and thrilled for me to have one of your horses!! 

Sue is now the proud owner of one of my personal custom glaze sculptures, which was a NAN Top Ten, out of extremely limited showing. He is an Arabian stallion the size of Amir, and is filling that display role in Sue's HR 9" Arabian family. As a collector of bisque Hagen-Renaker, trading for this piece was pretty darn exciting for me. I never imagined I would add a bisque 9" Zara to my shelf. I am very grateful to see her lovely face, every day. She will never be glazed by me; I hope whoever owns her after me will have the same inclination to leave her factory bisque, since she has so many interesting artifacts. This Zara is a good example of why some bisques, left "naked", can offer insights into production.

Thank you to Sue Thiessen for sharing the story, photos, and this unusual Zara.


Behning, Laura. Pers. comm. 12/31/2013

Francis, K.L. (11/18/2013). A Zara of Two Tales.
     [Web log comment.] Retrieved from:

Thiessen, Sue. Pers. comm. 12/22/2013 - 1/8/2014


  1. I would bet that Cee Vee was a seam cleaner at the factory, and marked that first casting with her name since it would stay at her station and be her cleaning guide. Then, when she didn't need it any more, she took it home. We'd never be able to prove it, but that would be my guess. It was the casting that cleaned the mold of junk (the first casting is always less than perfect) and she fixed it and used it.

  2. Since this was posted, I have received a collector-forwarded message from a former Monrovia employee, stating that HR never had employees mark their ware, in any fashion. I also have a scan of an old letter from HR, saying that such marks were employee initials. It's well known that the hoof sole initials were a means of tracking employee performance. I'm not sure what to make of the direct contradictions in messages, but the engravings will be a future blog subject.

    I'd agree that the unusual belly engraving probably helped identify this bisque specifically, and kept it from accidentally ending up in the production line.