Monday, September 15, 2014

In With The Bad, Out With The Good

The day started with my usual Clinky Classic show prep at this time of year, a whole mess of slipcasting. In between topping off the levels of liquid clay in the molds, I pick up disconnected areas of my messy studio. I've made it a goal to clear a section each day, until it's totally clean except for a pre-show dusting. While I was cleaning, I took a hard look at all the off-topic things in the cabinets of my studio. This is the clutter I can't throw away because it is composed of meaningful artworks, even if they are not the focus of what I collect, anymore.There are entire sub-collections that I haven't added to in a decade or more, but that would make my fellow collectors so happy. Also, if I am going to move into the family farm house soon, why pack, move, and unpack items I scarcely look at, when I can pack and rehome items, and make room? As the molds drained the excess slip, I started dusting these items, taking sales photos, and advertising them online.

Sometimes, you can look at a cabinet and know immediately when it is time for the contents to find new homes. It's not always a drastic downsizing, maybe a little shift, or a realization that a fellow collector could enjoy it now as I have, in the past. As undying fired earth, it is part of a continuum that extends before and after me; as a mortal curator, I feel better when I go with that flow of "where things need to go". Not in the sense of putting things away, of course. Look how long it's taking me to clean this studio!

Uploading photos and writing ads necessitates being in the office, on my computer. I hate everything about that: the chair, computers in general, lighting, and the smell of the air. I am not an office person. Still, to get things done, I sit here and get through it as fast as I can. I usually compose this blog with pen and paper, then input it all on the computer as fast as possible. The office is not my native environment.

Suddenly, around 3pm, a series of Facebook private messages came zinging through, as I worked. All of them were confusing, jumbled multi-horse photos with no text. Just broken vintage HRs and Japanese imports, and their parts, randomly placed in flats. 

Photos courtesy Jennifer Dodd

The messages were without text because there are no words.

I just typed back, "goodness bless their broken selves
                             Did you save them all?
                             I'd even look under that tapestry for legs"

What collector is prepared to see that? I couldn't tell much from the images, just that some were damaged Monrovia era Hagen-Renakers. Since I do restorations for hire, I assumed it was a purchase that the owner wanted restored. 

But, they were not yet purchased!

The sender, Jennifer Dodd, is a china collector friend who stumbled upon this estate auction's ad, and had to investigate. This is what the auctioneers' ad showed to prospective bidders:

Ceramic horses that survived nearly 60 years were freshly broken after this photo was taken.

Jennifer wrote: 
                         "They destroyed and threw away at least three.                           Don't even have trash anymore. Crusader, Honora, small Zara                          Said they broke to dust. I want to cry"

Yeah, me, too.

Auction companies are notorious for manhandling breakable items. To bear witness to this via photographs, let alone in person, can make one physically ill. There is no respect, it's just a job to the auction staff. 

As you can imagine, Jennifer is now feeling queasy, upon seeing the reality after the auctioneers split them into lots. She messaged me in blind hope that I would happen to be online and see the message, and help her guess values for bidding. 

It was sheer luck that I was doing sales ads at that moment, and my FB was signed in.

I wrote: 
                      "Save who you can. Don't worry about what you can't help.
              it's the rescue mantra"

Then a crazy thing happened. Jen asked me if I wanted to bid on anything. 

Well, it's no secret by now that I like mold detail and that I only collect certain molds. This keeps me focused and methodical about acquisitions. Something about building the congas (rows of the same sculpture in different colors) is very fun to me. There's a puzzle, a challenge, and it's not a checklist of numbers. When you are a collector of variants and factory goofs and customs, there are no checklists. You never know what will compose your conga!

I told her which molds I was after in the photos, but that I did not want to step on her own purchases. After all, she was sharing this with me, and doing the work! She even sent me closeup photos of the lots:

 When I saw that photo, I replied, "The Abdullah has throat wrinkles, that's nice." She had said his detail was moderate. His throat made me wonder if he was better, beneath all the dirt.

When they are so dirty and broken, it's hard to put values on them. Some horses will be fine after cleaning, but it's a gamble with crackled glaze on white horses. Nicotine, mildew, oils, and unidentified filth can be pressed or washed down into the crackle, staining the bisque body beneath. If the previous owner "bathed" their ceramics at any time, there may be deep stains that won't be evident until the outer dirt is removed.

Roan Lady happens to be one of the molds I conga. Maybe I should say, "a mold I aim to conga". It's been a slow build, and I've had many a missed connection. My husband even tried to secretly buy one like this at BreyerFest one year, as a surprise Christmas present, but a sharp collector beat him to it. The years haven't deterred me, I remain a fan. I even sculpted her real-life mate and made him in ceramic. This sad little white Monrovia Roan Lady was breaking my heart, with her apparent gray mildew and mysterious yellow debris. Her broken leg didn't worry me, but her potential stains did. I told Jennifer how much I was in for, and hoped for the best. The last I heard was a little after 4pm, when she was waiting on that lot. She would let me know if she won that lot, and would drop it off at my studio, after the auction.

Hours crept by, with no message, text, nor phone call. I have been to auctions. I know how it feels when I lose the lots I wanted: I don't particularly feel chatty. I kept working, demolding wet clay horses, and assumed that she had a bad auction day and went home. I made my dinner, worked some more, and put it out of mind.

At almost 8:30pm, she called while on the road... her phone had died, so she couldn't reach me sooner, but she had won the lot! Roan Lady was in the backseat. She was on her way to the studio, and wanted to stop and drop RL off.

I was gathering some restoration/cleaning gear when I heard the car pull up. She had arrived so soon, I had to check that it wasn't a trespasser! There may have been a little flying by way of car... maybe someone was a little excited from the auction. And rightly so...

She started unpacking her lots: some vintage Breyers, metal horses, and most of the china lot. Part of it had been shared with her friend that attended the auction that day. Everything present had the same mildew/dust combination, in varying amounts. Someone had collected Horse Shaped Objects for many years, and loved them enough to attempt mending their original damage. On old breaks on Man O' War, they used either wood finisher's crayon or Crayolas to match his color. Someone tried. They cared.

Jennifer urged me to take "before" photos of the main HRs in the lot, as I started showing her the alcohol cleaning process. On the right, is how they were after the auctioneers added damage to them. Left, just clean and glued, no putty or paint!

This is one of those "greenish-blue" underglaze variants. 
He also sports a muzzle that looks dipped in black, but it's sprayed.
He is so detailed, he has lip wrinkles! 

All the orange crayon is off, and he has his pride back.
His breaks had the most chips.

Not bad for a rescue!

They turned out to be even more detailed, once they were cleaned and mended. It's nice to find a Monrovia Roan Lady with face veining! The stickers are all pristine, and there is an added bonus:

Roan Lady retains her original retail price sticker! Five whole dollars. I cleaned around it, because that's cool history.

We sat cleaning and mending horses until almost one o'clock in the morning. There's nothing quite like the sense of purpose when rescuing old pottery art. Jennifer learned the cleaning process, from alcohol to glue removal, and assisted with gluing the mends with the accelerant. She did a couple ceramic imports on her own, and they turned out to be adorable treasures! Looks like she's ready to take on the epoxy putty, next time.

The continuum carries forward, and some unknown person's beloved horses are now getting fixed and loved again. Sadness gets turned into a positive. I was happy to also find a loving home for an earlier restored rescue horse that didn't fit in my collection themes. By next week, all my ads will be done and more ceramics will have new, appreciative homes. 

Many thanks to Jennifer Dodd for bringing this all about, and to her intrepid auction buddy Jessica Mashburn for helping her keep it together all afternoon. What an amazing surprise!

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