Monday, February 24, 2014

Muddy Monday: Show Sheen

WARNING: This post describes a process that is only for unrestored, glazed surfaces. This will not yield satisfactory results on bisque or cold-painted, restored, glued, or spray-can-sealed surfaces. Alcohol will eat unfired paint and sealers. Know what you have in hand, before you apply anything. Use a black light to find hidden paint touch-ups, if you want to be certain. If the glaze crackle field abruptly ends, it is probably the start of a restored area.

Spray can gloss on OF horses? Yes, people did.
Right is the horse as it was presented to me, a glossy.
Left is the cleaned leg in prep for restoration. 
Fired gloss does not wipe off with alcohol.

Before cleaning.

I mention this because I have been fooled by horses that were supposed to be mint and untouched. When I started cleaning them in preparation for a show, I found cosmetic work on their factory flaws and normal markings. Fortunately for me, my interest in the pieces was not reduced by clearing away these things. Other collectors, with different specialties in the hobby, may not feel the same way.

After cleaning.
More factory underglaze rub-off spots and an undecorated foreleg came to light.
This horse had been cosmetically enhanced to make it more "normal" for a model horse show.

In collecting earthenware, the horses that show the most dirt are, of course, the white grays. They pick up dust from years of display, but they also develop a haze of beige from hand oils, cigarette nicotine, or other air pollution. Sometimes, they are sticky to the touch. This haze is unwelcome in the show ring.

You will need:

A clean rubber or cotton glove

Rubbing alcohol, higher percentage preferred (less water)

Paper towels

Brand-new, sharp X-acto blade (style doesn't matter, as long as it is not a huge utility blade) in handle

Bright light source

Your goal: keep moisture and dirt from washing down into the crackle of the glaze. If you have a newer HR, you may find no crackle yet, and so this is not a concern.

Why alcohol? It evaporates very quickly, reducing the risk of pooling into the crackle, while cutting through grime in a way that water alone cannot equal.

1. Work under the bright light, to be sure you can see your progress. Put a little rubbing alcohol on the first paper towel, so that a small section of it is moistened. You want the moist area to be dryer than a baby wipe. Have a second, dry paper towel at hand.

2. With a light dabbing motion, pull the moistened towel away from the glazed surface with each stroke. you do not want to press any liquid or dirt down into the crackle.

3. After a couple dabs, chase with clean, dry paper towel. Repeatedly dab and dry same area, until no further color builds on the moist towel. Fold away and make fresh areas of moist towel, as soiling appears on towel.

4. Repeat for next small area, and the next, slowly working around the model. When you have to change your grip, set the model down, and put on the glove. Hold the cleaned end with the fresh glove, so you aren't adding oils and dirt to the cleaned surface.

< Before and After >
This horse had only one owner, since the 1950's.

5. If you find stubborn goop, cold paint spatters, or sticker residue, dip the X-acto in alcohol and with about a 20-degree angle, push-scrape the residue. Be gentle, you don't want to leave a metallic rub on the more matte horses. Also, avoid catching the edge of any crackle with your blade. Your blade can chip weakened glaze off the edges of crackle lines. This is why you want to scoot it over the surface at an acute angle, not a perpendicular one.

Sticker residue

Three colors of cold paint: cream, green glitter, and black near the ear!

Why don't you use the dishwasher, or dip it in a sink full of suds?

Never put earthenware cups, bowls, horses, or anything in the dishwasher. Earthenware is porous, and is sensitive to temperature shocks. At best, it yields more crackle than before, all of it stained.

Do not submerge earthenware, because the water wicks straight into the crackle, and into the clay of the interior surfaces, via the vent or pour hole. When water goes into crackle, it carries the dirt in, with it.

The dirt will not come out of the crackle, so avoid getting it in there. Even if you fire it in a kiln, this is no guarantee of cleaning. Sometimes, the dirt stains the clay below, the glaze flows over it, forever sealing over the ash remains of the filth as "crackle shadows". I learned this firsthand, on made-in-Japan pottery horses. Don't forget, refiring means you will lose all that gorgeous age crackle! Please, don't do it.

With some patience, and very low-tech and low-cost materials, you can remove the years of grime and your show horse will truly glow.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Muddy Monday: Get Carded

As show season approaches, it is time to start dusting off show horses and prepping their attending paper reference materials. Prepping now? Yes, a happy, relaxed china shower has all the work done before the show day.

Warning: this is an Editorial Opinion piece, based on my experience as a model horse live show exhibitor and show holder. I am using all my own good and bad examples that I actually have competed, with the exception of the very last good example. Mistakes, I've made a few...

A word about using digital media for reference material display on the judging table: 
This may be perfectly acceptable in other divisions, but use your head with ceramics. If you have set up a series of slides or screens that invite the judge to use the touchpad, it's a bad idea. Every time they touch or slide, they are interacting with the table. This can be anything from a tiny jiggle, to having to press hard to refresh a device, after the screen has gone to sleep. The point is, it causes a disturbance that is undesirable for a china judging table. If you choose to use devices to display your collectibility information, be sure you have Sleep turned off, and that the screen Brightness is set so that it is legible. Just as it is the height of rudeness to fill out cards by hand on the judging table, jiggling other entries in the process, it is equally rude to be doing it on a device. All prep should be done at your personal show table, or at home. Do not use a dodgy device because you happen to have it to spare; judges are impressed by content, not tech.

This tutorial will address the use of paper materials for Original Finish (OF) China (all factory-finished ceramics) Collectibility. This post has been a long time coming, as I have coached some exhibitors over the years on their cards. I have been a card user for many years, even before it was a requirement for Nationals-level competition (North American Nationals). I remember the days of Collector's Classes, where each piece in the group had to have a card, explaining its worthiness to be included. These days, cards describing the rarity and production description of each single-horse entry are required in all NAN Collectibility classes. My show is a NAN qualifier, therefore, I made it a rule that Collectibility entries at my show should be presented as ready to compete at the next level. At least one other china show has adopted the same requirement.

If you are showing vintage HRs in Collectibility, you need this book, the third edition. It doesn't have everything, but it has the basics.

The generally accepted format for a Collectibility Card is a white 3x5" index card, with or without lines, or a small, cut piece from a printed Word document. If you do not have a way to print from your computer, you will have to carefully hand-write each card. The handwriting should be printed clearly, not crammed close together, and never in cursive. 

Please do not offend a judge with this.
What company made it? What is it called? Could this card look any worse?

Better, easier to read, and more specific, but who made it? What is the mold called?

If you print from your computer, Word has pre-measured formats you can select for index cards. You can save yourself the trouble of locating the perforated printer paper, and just use normal white card stock or paper, and a small paper cutter. Collectibility cards do not have to be 3 x 5" exactly. They can be any size that is neatly trimmed and legible, within the 8.5 x 11" maximum.

A very easy-to-read font is Arial. It is plain, clear of serifs, and its ease of communication are reasons why I use it for this blog. As tempting as it may be to match fonts to your horses (Mesquite for Quarter Horses! Cracked for all the chinas!), just don't do it. Use black ink on white paper, just like you would for a college paper. Judges get enough stimuli for migraines, and cards should not add to them.

Let's look at three kinds of OF entries, and how to avoid card content pitfalls of each.

Horse Is Common As Dirt (and made of it)

Some of my favorite sculptures happen to be easy to find for sale, because the factory made so many. They are beautiful, they sold well, they were successful, thus, we see a lot of them. If the horse is common, what is there to say? Everyone has seen it, ho-hum. Not so fast!

If this blog has influenced you in any way, you now have an idea how to investigate and really look at the ceramic, as it sits before you. Are you overlooking something pertinent to the judge's assessment of its collectibility? Being specific will save this from being an average entry.

Things that are worth noting, on even the most common horses:

Does it have one or two stickers?
Does it have early or late markers of production in its run?
Are its legs straighter than most?
Does it have an error, or maybe some employee customization?
If a reissue limited edition, do you have its factory certificate of authenticity?
How many colors were made?
Which factory seasons made each color?

Many exhibitors simply enter the factory COA as their sole Collectibility documentation.
In some cases, a little more information may be needed.

Good example of when, how many, what factory, what mold, and even where it fits in the factory progression.

As bare as your Card may look, do not make stuff up. Do not fib. Avoid hyperbole, and edit out as many adjectives as possible. Do not add import to your entry with indemonstrable third party rumor (ie, "My friend Susie Creamcheese says this is the darkest one, ever!"). 

Don't do this.
Outdated, relying heavily on opinion, and no relevant factory data, at all.
Known to whom?
Also, crooked "stand-up" folded style fails to look nearly as neat as a flat card.

Good example of legible, space-saving documentation.
The card makes the most of a common mold with plenty of information.
The use of the word "outstanding" is reasonable on this particular entry, 
because this particular horse has loads of fur coat detail.

Horse Has A Good Chance of Placing, Even Without Documentation

To me, this is the toughest of the three. It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with your moderately rare horse, assuming (a big mistake) that the judge is a specialist of that mold, and knows exactly how few there are. Do not underestimate the value of a good card effort, even if this is the rarest color of the mold. Does it have good color, but poor mold detail? Then, don't mention detail, just mention the color positively. Good detail, but the common color? How many made, how long were they made? Was yours signed by the artist? Is it a variation, and what exactly makes it different?

This card has bold text for the single most important fact about the entry: 
it was only made for one year.
One HR season = half a year, as there are only two order forms per year.
Funny side note about Peggy Lou: collectors used to say there were no softly-detailed ones, 
because they weren't made long enough to wear down the molds.
I have now seen enough PL's to dispel this. There is a whole range of mold detail on PL models.
If you show a crispy PL, mention its good detail on the card.

Horse Has Its Own Paparazzi

There are always some of these at china specialty shows. Fellow exhibitors, and even show staff, will take turns photographing when such a horse hits the ring. 

This horse needs a cut-and-dried, "Just the facts, ma'am!" card. If you can show documentation that it was a test or a factory custom, such as a text reference or photos, print out small copies or short (credited) quotes that get the point across. The largest accepted size of a single entry's documentation is a single 8.5 x 11" sheet. 

This is the largest Collectibility documentation I ever entered, 8.5 x 11". 
It includes the original auction, showing its purchase from a factory-related person.
The selling price is blanked out, so that value does not sway the judge.
The printed card with more information is laid over the additional auction photos, 
not taking up room next to it.

Do not put two full 8.5 x 11" sheets, nor an entire book laid flat, as your documentation. My number-one peeve on a china judging table is a book taking up real estate, or worse, flopping over. Putting a book on the table tells the judge that you didn't take the time to put the information into your own words, print photos, and thus generate the proper size of documentation. It says, "I'm lazy, or didn't plan ahead, or don't care." You would never do this for a school paper! Showmanship in model horses is so darn easy, there's no excuse to skip the minimum effort. If all book users just once experienced a near-disaster because of someone else's documentation taking up space or being unstable... maybe the practice would cease? At my show, the accountability begins with a DQ if there is a book on the table. 

In the rare case that you own the actual model shown in a book, use your camera. Put the wee photo of the page, citing the page number and the book title, with your documentation. There is never a good reason to thunk a book down in the judging ring.

If it is a vintage horse (not current or reissue), does it have its factory packaging? If so, show a photo of it in/with the original box, but do not put the box on the judging table. Some exhibitors add a small note to the judge, saying they can produce the box from their show table for inspection. Can you prove its rarity, age, or other facts with an ancient receipt, showing the origin, date, and issue price? 

Example of winning with legible, hand-written, low-tech documentation.
This could be improved with mold number and years of regular run production.
Entry by Denise Masters, at Clinky Classic 2.

Things You Should Not Do in a Collectibility entry, for any level:

Do not use a photocopy or replica of another model's sticker. 

Do not show another model like yours, but not this exact horse, in a photo with original packaging, and claim your entry is a complete unit. 

Do not use slang. It is acceptable to use hobby abbreviations, but no txt speak, please.

Do not ask others to write your cards for you. It is good to ask questions, but it's best to ask other collectors very specific questions, and only after exhausting every book and reference web site known to humankind. 

Avoid neon paper, metallics, glitter, flowers, stand-up photo frames, decorated borders. A card is ideally a simple transfer of information, and the audience (the judge) deserves the same respect as when you submit a college paper. If you use page protectors, make sure they are optically clear. If the judge has to squint to read it through the plastic, it is failing. No perfume, no distractions. I used to use the clear upright photo frames, but I once saw one fall over, so now I'm anti-frame.

Never show your model, or a similar one, in a photo with past awards as part of your Collectibility documentation. Do not brag about past wins. The entry today is not being judged on past achievements, but against What Else Is On The Table.

Your entry is not about who you know. Name drop in your documentation only if it has historic significance to the factory, or shows a short chain of factory provenance. Collectibility is about the factory and its associates; it is not about noted model horse hobbyists whose names you think will give your horse an edge with the judge. The only time it is appropriate to list the previous owner is if they have a direct link to the factory that produced the entry (like a family member).

Just as for Artist Resin Workmanship, do not mention the restoration artist's name on a Collectibility Card. The factory designer or the factory decorator's name is OK to mention, because they were factory employees, and are generally outside the realm of influence of judging-by-name. Avoid mentioning that the entry was restored at all, unless the only factory provenance you have displays it in a damaged condition. Then, it is important to mention, "This was restored since that was published", so that the judge knows it really is the same exact horse shown in documentation.

If you have any card questions, you are welcome to email me or post a comment to the blog. Happy card writing, and see you at the shows!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Muddy Monday: Seams Like It

Speaking from personal experience, cleaning ceramic greenware (raw mud) is not an instant skill. There are many broken legs and knife slips before one feels comfortable with the process. Even the two grips- one on tool, one on casting- have to be learned and adjusted for each situation. A thin casting needs a lighter touch than a heavy casting, or your fingers can break right through the body walls!

Perfection is something devoted potters aspire to, but seldom attain. In mass production pottery, we accept a bit more error than is expected from today's small, artist-run potteries. A single specialist has more time to devote to each piece than a factory worker does. Please keep in mind, this is not a condemnation of mass production pottery! Production fills a market need that smaller studios could never fill, without becoming larger companies and hiring a lot of people.

Production pottery approaches the tedious job of seaming the raw castings with speed. A wet sponge and a small, bladed tool (too many variants to list) pretty much does the job. We often see seaming artifacts left by these two types of tools. 

Heavy sponge work looks like a patch of super-fine, parallel lines. The sponge was swept broadly across or down seam lines, to blend them into the surrounding surfaces.

San Marcos Metalchex

San Dimas Crusader

When airbrushing picks it up as surface texture, it can have neat effects. Because the lines are recessed scratches, decorator handling can rub off the raw underglaze on the upper surfaces, created the pigmented lines in these examples.

San Dimas Sun Cortez

The yellow line running down the horse is the location of the actual seam line. You can see it not because it is raised, but because the poured clay sets up slightly more dense, along the mold's parting lines. The yellow is really just dense white clay slip. In this next sponged example, the dark gray line is the denser slip seam.

Monrovia rose gray Sheba
Model courtesy Janet Hicks.

It is dangerously easy to wipe out mold detail with a sponge. As you can see, this is a nicely detailed Daisy. 

Monrovia Daisy

She even has fur detail on her neck and on the underside of her blowing mane. Look what spongeing has done to her shoulder, where the seam runs.

A wet sponge on a wet casting can literally wipe the face off.

Smeared like cake icing!
Miniature Turning Mustang

Nice detail, on this side.

Sponged, on this side.
This is actually not nearly as smoothed as most 6" Zara models.

This Abdullah has nice detail, as you can tell from his face,
but a sponge smoothed out part of his mane.
Model courtesy Janet Hicks.

See those tiny bumps on Abdullah's cheek, above? The action of the sponge wipe removes the fine, outer layer of silt that gives slipcast surfaces their smoothness. The inner grog of the clay (the larger, harder mineral particles) are exposed, and appear as tiny pebbles in the newly-swept surface. 

Monrovia Swaps

San Marcos Harry with sponge swipes.
This one got a little bit Toasty, too. His grog has turned white and is raised.

This lightly-sponged horse has less exposed grog, and with a gloss glaze, it looks almost like a Chinese drip glaze.

San Marcos gloss chestnut QH Mare

A dry sponge on a moist greenware casting produces this effect.

San Dimas Sun Cortez

Bladed tool work looks like long, flat unnatural facets.

That's not her spine. That's one continuous blade facet.

Too quick with the blade, and you lose a chunk of hoof.
The facet that ended abruptly with hoof removal is visible on the leg.
Model courtesy Janet Hicks.

Sometimes, you get both on the same spot, on one horse.

San Dimas Swaps

San Dimas Sun Cortez

Oops! Forgot a seam!

San Marcos bisque Lippitt

The next seams were not forgotten, they were diligently cleared off the greenware. However, during firing, the denser clay along the seam raised from the rest of the surface.

Monrovia Swaps

This one is more noticeable because decoration smeared across the raised seam.
San Dimas "pinto" Butch, model courtesy Janet Hicks.

Sponge swipes and popped seam.
San Dimas bisque Comella

These are not seams.

Hard spots on back and side of 6" doeskin Zara.

Hard spots are the first places where the wet slip hits, when it is poured inside a mold. The pigment is darker because the clay is denser there, as along seams. I think it's safe to say the side one was a splash from the initial back hit.

Another false seam is made by the pigment and mineral layers of imperfectly-mixed liquid slip. Some people call this the "woodgrain effect". It is not intentionally done, it's just that the slip could have used more stirring before it was poured in the mold. This occurs on tinted and on pure white slips, as you can see.

San Dimas Amir

Large hard spot on chest of dark buckskin Metalchex.
Does this mean he was poured through his butt? 
I had to really take a look at his tail, which could be the plug... a topic for another day!

This examination of what some ceramic production artifacts look like, and the insight into their causes, may be of help to you when purchasing ceramics, or evaluating your potential show horses. On the latter, I urge you to be very picky. You want to bring out your best to wow a judge. A live show judge is going to check that your entry has two eyes, not just one and a smear. With the more common HRs, there may be three or more identical models in the same class. If you have a model with extremely noticeable tool marks, or lost detail, it is probably not going to place favorably against the same horses with better (or unnoticeable) seams.

While I'm not new to ceramics production (cleaning greenware professionally since 1995), I can't possibly know everything. If you have more information on how and why some of these happened, or the HR employee training process, I'd love to read about it. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Muddy Monday: The MLO and MFMG Arabian Stallion

A recurring phenomenon, in the portfolio of Maureen Love, is her skill in switching between art styles. While some of her extremely realistic horses were already in production at Hagen-Renaker, she was already branching out in more abstract representations (Modern Horse, wall plaques). During the 1960's, HR helped promote Maureen's own studio line of stoneware models, by including her order form with their own, in mailings to their dealers.*

Maureen's unnamed "Arabian Horse" mold showcases her two approaches. The flow and repeated lines of this sculpture follow basic concepts of good design. Those who collect only realistic horses, especially for competition, are less attracted to this mold. The pose's phase of movement is a bit unorthodox, in horse portraiture; he appears to be slowing down from a canter. In size and composition, he almost looks like a blend of Maureen's Arabian designs for HR, Sheba and Ferseyn

The most unconventional (to model horse collectors) feature of this mold, as produced during the "Maureen Love Originals" line of stoneware, is his complete lack of eyes. Historically, Western art produced figures with carved out pupils and bas-relief irises, referred to as "lunular pupils" by at least one source.* This mold, however, has the entire eye carved out, to emphasize deep, dark brown equine eyes.

In the sculpture world, this is a perfectly acceptable way of representing the darkest part of a subject's eyes. Maureen used this technique of representation on quite a few of her own editions, and even some of her Hagen-Renaker sculptures. This mini mini is an example.

MLO order form.
Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Nancy wrote that this one was made in 1975, and it is the most frequent color on this mold.
Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
This is the same horse that was sold in the estate auctions.

His other side. Note that he has the same foreleg damage, hoof color.
Photo courtesy of Ed Alcorn's Maureen Love Estate Auction page.

This undated variation has less white glaze, and more of the red clay showing through.
Photo courtesy Sally Clow.

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Maureen's thick white glaze had a tendency to pinhole; it gave the horse a "fleabit gray" look. For most pottery, pinholes are undesirable, considered a flaw. Pinholes make a piece not foodsafe for functional ware, as the holes harbor food debris and bacteria. However, Maureen saw the decoration potential in this rebellious glaze. It makes the shadowplay of the holes convey the fleabite markings!

All of those bumps are bubbles. If they had popped, they would make even more pinhole "fleabite" markings.
You are looking at boiling glass (silica), that is simply frozen.

Decades later, Laurilyn produced more of the Arabian Horse mold, through a spin-off of their shared endeavor, Made With Love. The very small runs of castings were called Molds From Maureen's Garage. Maureen retooled the Arabian mold to have a smooth body, and eyeballs, for the MFMG edition. Laurilyn did all of the glazing on these.

Arappaloosa custom glaze by Laurilyn Burson
Photos from the 2003 MFMG Auction calendar

Photos courtesy of Kathy Williams.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Williams.

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

A conversation about this mold came up on the breakables yahoogroup in November 2013, following the posting of this ad, in a horse show program, for sale:

Scan of ad by Liz Strauss.

Photo on ad, enlarged for detail.
Note: no stilt glaze mark on belly.

It may sound odd to the outside observer, but even paper ephemera, like this ad for a horse transporter, can be collectible. So few have been found of certain molds, like this one, that any evidence of other finished castings is helpful to our collective knowledge about the mold. Maureen's own record of this edition's total number, if it existed, has yet to be made public. 

The single example of this mold on the Model Horse Gallery, known as "Shah Zaman" and owned by anonymous, has been identified by a unique glaze flaw. It appears to have been touched by a metal stilt during the glaze firing. This left a pair of vertical indentations in just the glaze, in two spots on the right side, behind the girth area.

Photo courtesy of The Model Horse Gallery
Photo submitted to MHG by Liz Bouras

It appears to also be the same model on page 35 of Nancy Kelly's Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love.

Photo courtesy of The Horse, Bird, and Wildlife Figures of Maureen Love 
by Nancy Kelly, Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

If one compares the individual pigment areas of the glaze, this also shows it is the same exact horse. This horse was owned by Margo Potheau, who got him from possibly Jennifer Raymond, from Liz Bouras, from an unknown collector. The bottom of the base is not dated, but Liz owned this very piece in the mid-to-late 1970's, so he must be an early '70's piece. She called him, "Amarna Shah Zaman", after the famous horse, Ansata Shah Zaman. This model was sold to Jennifer Raymond in 1979, but from there his history agains falls into the unknown, until Margo acquired him. Here are some links about the real horse. Liz shared this:

Just read your new muddy hoof prints- very saddened to hear Margo died, had lost touch with her years ago. Back when I was a teenager, I'd sometimes find H-Rs in fleamarkets and she always bought them from me.

This ceramic model, with the identifying belly mark, was part of a generous bequest of original Maureen Love artworks, which is featured here.

It was a delight to examine so many images of both abstract and realistic versions of this rare mold. It is so inspiring to see how each interpretation changes the sculpt. We often see tests, variants, or different colourways from HR's history on her realistic molds, but on examples like this, the difference is much more significant.

Special thanks to Nancy Kelly, Sally Clow, Kathy Williams, Liz Bouras/Gail Berg, and Ed Alcorn for the use of their photos.

*When I was just getting started with the ceramic "Voltage" edition, as Lucas Studio, Joan Berkwitz cited this gesture on HR's part, and insisted on promoting my production run to her own Pour Horse Pottery dealers. 

**This book was the 1980 exhibition and restoration companion text, The Horses of San Marco, Venice. Here is a copy for sale, and it's the first copy I have seen since I got my own in the 1980's. I highly recommend it to equine sculpture students.