Thursday, 23 May 2019

The Clinky Company that Could

I am a huge fan of china horses, also called "clinkies" and "breakables" within the hobby.  I actually prefer these terms to "china" since a lot of the horses I collect are made from other materials -- earthenware, ceramic and porcelain being the most common.  "China" actually refers specifically to a type of fine white high quality clay of the sort commonly used to make cups and plates, and "bone china" indicates a type of china made using animal bone powder.  So all clinky horses are not necessarily china.

The horses in the Lakeshore Collection are made from a fine bisque porcelain, painstakingly decorated and fired many times over.  The result of  this "trial by fire"  is an extraordinarily durable model horse -- Lakeshore founder Cindy Neuhaus is apparently well known for demonstrating the strength of her Lakeshores by attempting to scratch them or snap them to no avail.  I haven't seen such a demonstration in person, but I understand that it's heart-stopping.

Lakeshore is an incredible little company.  Founded in 2002, according to the Model Horse Gallery, its foundation horses are an Arabian (Status Symbol) and a Saddlebred  (Miz Charisma) sculpted by Ed Gonzales, a hunter (Marshall) sculpted by Ann Harris, a stock horse (Touch of the Sky) sculpted by Laurie Jo Jensen, and a pony (Houdini) sculpted by D'arry Jone Frank.
My Houdini a.k.a. "Hoodoo McFiggin"

As of today I have two Lakeshores in my collection, and each one is a special little dude.  The first I bought off the Model Horse $ales Pages, and I know very little about him.  He's a Houdini done in a sooty palomino and was sold to me as a test piece, but when he was actually created and what run he might have been a test for remain a mystery to me.

It was my purchase of this Houdini, though, that led me to seek out the Lakeshore Collection website and sign up for their newsletter, and it was the newsletter that brought me to my second Lakeshore, a custom-glazed bay sabino Touch of the Sky.
My Touch of the Sky a.k.a. "Highlights"
He just arrived this week, and I'm just as much in love with him as I am with my Houdini.  I also know a little bit more about the circumstances of his creation -- when he was created (2019), who painted him (Linda Watson Gresham), and I have an idea as to why (likely she was just playing around, as artists tend to do when they have a model horse in their hands).  At any rate, he's a custom or a one-of-a-kind (OOAK), as he was not intended to be a test for a proposed run.

The wonder of the Lakeshore Collection is that they offer these horses directly to collectors at very affordable prices compared to most other clinkies.  Heck, they're even cheaper than most plastic Stone horses and some plastic Breyers.

More amazing still, it's a one-woman business, obviously a labour of love for Cindy Neuhaus.  I've only been following the fortunes of the company for a couple of years, and still I've been amazed at the number of limited editions they've managed to produce during that time.  Even their "regular run" horses are limited editions, but with a limit of 1,000 pieces the regulars tend to hang around for a while.  The more limited limited editions (also called special runs or special editions) go very quickly -- I've learned from experience that you only have a tiny bit of time to dither before they are sold out from under you, which is why, when I saw the sabino Touch of the Sky I jumped on the offer.

Both of my Lakeshores have names that hearken back to my childhood.  The Houdini is named Hoodoo McFiggin after the hero of a Stephen Leacock story my father used to read to us when I was young, and Touch of the Sky is named Highlights after the 70+ year-old children's magazine.  I also seem to be starting a kind of "H" theme here as well, so my next Lakeshore will probably get a moniker beginning with that letter.

And I have confidence that there will be another Lakeshore, somewhere along the road.  At this time when clinky collectors are beginning to fret about losing small studios due to an aging population of craftspersons, Lakeshore just keeps chugging along.  It's the little clinky company that could -- long may she run!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

And They Called it Pony Love

I'm smitten.

My Rhian and Cadell Premier Welsh Ponies arrived from Breyer last Friday and I can't take my eyes off them.  I've been anticipating their arrival for months now, but I have to say it was worth the wait.
Rhian and Cadell and their swag.
I don't know how many people are in the Premier Club this year, but I suspect it's more than usual since I'm certainly not the only one to have joined for the first time this year and to have joined specifically because of the ponies.  Breyer (and the Premier Club membership) have a lot to thank Josine Vingerling for.

Way back when, I was one of the Just About Horses subscribers who tried to get some of the Connoisseur Series horses.  The Connoisseur Series was sort of a snail mail forerunner of the Premier Club, promoting high quality models for collectors willing to pay the price.  Unlike the Premier Club, the horses in the Connoisseur Series were not necessarily first editions of a new mold -- in fact, most of them weren't.  However, the numbers of Connoisseur Series horses released were limited and known in advance, whereas the number of Premier Club horses issued is limited only by the number of people enrolled in the Club, and for the past few years that number has not been released.  

Getting a Connoisseur horse was a matter of luck -- like the online raffles of today, you had to have your name drawn in order make a purchase.  I didn't put my name in for all of them, but I was chosen only once -- for Quarterflash.  I still have and still love my Quarterflash.  He was, as advertised, a higher quality model for his time; even today his coat still has the rich, warm glow of an oil painting.

Now that I have a pair of Premier Club horses in my hands, I can say that the same care and attention has been lavished on them.  The mare, Rhian, reveals new surprises every time you look at her -- subtle dapples, fleabites, sabino patches, and a mild maternal eye.  The sculpture is also lovely, with the lightly windblown mane and tail and the mare's indulgent attitude when paired with her frolicking foal -- you get the impression that this is not the first time she's had a youngster at heel.

The foal, Cadell, is a rough and ready little fellow, and his attitude is one of a little colt quite full of himself and the joy of living.  His coat is a lovely fuzzy buckskin -- sooty buckskin, according to his designer -- and it somehow manages to look both soft and spiky at the same time.
Such a sweet pair!
Both of the ponies have plenty of pony character in their faces -- it has been remarked by several other collectors that they pair nicely with Breyer's Cefnoakpark Bouncer (sculpted by Kathleen Moody), and even though Bouncer was meant to be a Welsh Section C while Rhian and Cadell are meant to be Welsh Section A, I have to agree.  Checking my records, I notice that when I showed my Bouncer I showed him as a Section A and he did very well -- indicating that he's not as typey a sculpture as he might have been.  The fact that Brookside Pink Magnum's owners also chose the Bouncer mold for a portrait of their Section B Welsh pony also argues against Bouncer's being a perfect Section C.

Rhian and Cadell, on the other hand, do seem on type to me.  In any case, they're much the same size as Bouncer, and like Bouncer, Rhian has a comfortable heft in the hand.  The foal is a little lighter, and perched on his tiptoes as he is he has to be set down carefully to avoid toppling -- I wouldn't say that he's particularly tipsy, but he just doesn't feel as solid as Bouncer or Rhian.

In case you were wondering, "Rhian" is a variation of "rhiain" the Welsh word for "maiden" and "Cadell" was the name of a couple of Welsh monarchs.  I'm naming my pair Pembroke and Cardigan, as I'm afraid my imagination runs to corgis rather than to kings.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

What If ...

The question comes around every once in a while on hobby forums and chat sites, or whatever media hobbyists are using these days to communicate with one another.  It usually goes something like this: "If your house were on fire/falling down/flooding (pick your natural disaster) and you could only grab one model horse, what would it be?"  Or, more simply, "Out of all the model horses that you own, which one is your favourite?"

Typically, the questioners do not get the kind of response they are looking for.  In the disaster scenario, a large number of people would respond that they would not grab a model -- they would grab a loved one, or a pet, or a photo album, or something else more meaningful.  To the question about favourites, a lot of people will say that they just can't choose a favourite, or that their favourite changes day by day.

Despite this, I think there's some value in the question.  The way I put it to myself is: "If I could only have one model out of all the models in my collection, which one would I keep?"  This question works for me because it is not outside the realm of possibility.  Like many collectors of my vintage, I often ponder when and how I will downsize my collection.

Answering the question tells me something about what I value most in my collection, and can actually help me to make wiser future purchases knowing what it is that I value most.

The one model horse I would keep, if I could only keep one model horse, is my Pour Horse "Red Okie Clay" who I've named Tom Joad.
                      Tom Joad, or Red Okie Clay, as he's known to the rest of the world.

I did show this horse at a live show meeting, and he did win a championship, but I've had other models that were shown more extensively and brought home many more ribbons.  

There was nothing extraordinary about his purchase.  I did not buy him directly from Pour Horse at the time of his release, but years later, off the Model Horse $ales Pages, from a collector I did not know.  I did not get a great bargain, nor do I feel that I paid too much.  I have other horses that have been gifts, have been bought from the dispersal of special collections, have been bought in memorable places under memorable circumstances, have been fantastic "finds" and that I've probably paid too much for.  Tom Joad is none of these things.

He is a piece from an approximately 230-piece run, and is not apparently different from any of the others in that run.  I have other pieces that are one-of-a-kinds (OOAKs) and customized.  I have customs done by myself, by my friends, and by artists I admire.  The resin on which Red Okie Clay was based was done by an artist I admire (Carol Williams) and the china was painted by an artist I admire (Joanie Berkwitz) but I do not know either of them at all.

From this I can see that suitability for live showing, sentimental or historical significance, where a piece came from, its price and its value (which are not necessarily the same thing), rarity, and a personal connection to the maker of the piece are not among the things I value most in a model horse.

So what do I value?  Well, with Tom Joad I love the delicacy of his sculpture: those unbelievably dainty hooves, the long, thin legs, and the chiselled head.  I love the realistic appaloosa characteristics of both the mold and the paint job.  Even though the original resin was based on a Paint horse colt and not an Appaloosa, because it is a foal it has the sparse mane and tail which are also sometimes distinguishing marks of the Appaloosa.  The striped hooves and the lightning marks on the legs are also distinguishing marks, and very well done.  So delicacy, detailing, accuracy, and artistry are things that I value.

I have to admit that I love the fact that he's a china -- after all, I could have bought him in resin if I chose.  But I love the sense of permanence that you get with china.  It's fragile, but in its finished form is is not malleable.  It is fixed.  Its shape will always remain the same unless broken and poorly repaired.  But if Tom Joad were broken and poorly repaired, he'd no longer be my one horse.  So material and condition are also things that I value.

I also like the fact that the horse is just standing there -- not doing something wild or dramatic.  I have my share of rearing and turning horses, grazing horses and lying horses, bucking horses and pulling horses.  But I appreciate the stability of a horse standing four square on its hooves.

I can tell you that my second runner-up, as you might say, for the position of the one horse I would keep shares many of the above characteristics, but after that it gets harder to choose a single horse to keep, and I sympathize with all those folks who say they just can't choose a favourite,  Technically, I can't either, but if I had to get rid of all the others and could keep only one, I think that one would be Tom Joad.  There's nothing special about him, but he is the one model horse I'm proudest to own.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Mrs. Henry's Horses

They are all old friends.

Misty, Stormy, and Sea Star.  Brighty and Justin Morgan.  San Domingo and Hobo. Sham. Black Gold.

Just say their names and you can probably see their faces in the soft, fuzzy pencils and paints of Wesley Dennis, the smooth flowing lines of Rich Rudish, or the strong bold strokes of Robert Lougheed.

And being a model horse collector you probably also visualize them as Breyers.

My favorite image of Marguerite Henry is one I first encountered on the cover of a Breyer catalog.

There, on the cover of the 1976 Breyer collector’s manual, a photographer has captured an image of the beloved children’s author sitting at her desk, surrounded by a small collection of Breyer horses.  Not just any Breyer horses, but little plastic representatives of her work -- Misty, Hobo, Brighty, and Justin Morgan.

I love this photo because to me it seems to show that Mrs. Henry loved Breyers as much as the rest of us.  Perhaps she was flattered by having her storybook horses sculpted into these adorable little figures.  Perhaps she liked to look at them and remember their stories as much as the rest of us do.

For Mrs. Henry’s horses were unique.  They weren’t just storybook characters -- Marguerite Henry didn’t write that way.  She was often quoted as saying that she couldn’t make up a story if she tried.  Instead, she told stories.  The incidents in her books were all based on incidents in the lives of real horses -- fictionalized for dramatic purposes, to be sure, but real all the same -- based on exhaustive research.

Over time, Breyer has done Marguerite Henry proud.  No fewer than 22 of her equine heroes have been immortalized in plastic, some several times over.
Justin Morgan, Stormy and Misty -- three of my Marguerite Henry horses.

Probably the most famous of Mrs. Henry's horses is Misty of Chincoteague, who was introduced to the Breyer line-up in 1972.  She was followed by Justin Morgan (1973), Brighty (1974), the classic sized Hobo (1975), Stormy (1977), San Domingo (1978), Sea Star (1980), Phantom Wings (1982), Sham (1984), the Black Gold special run (1985), Lady Roxanna (1986), the Our First Pony gift set (1987), the King of the Wind gift set (1990), Misty's Twilight (1991), Hobo on the Phar Lap mold (1991), Little Bub and Wild Diamond (1994), Brown Sunshine (1996), the Misty II, Black Mist and Twister set (1996), Hobo on the Silver mold (2005), San Domingo on the Semi-Rearing Mustang mold (2007), and the Black Gold regular run (2007).

Beyond the plastics, Misty and Stormy also appeared as Breyer flockies (1984), Misty as a Breyer/Hagen-Renaker ceramic (1993) and, although no connection to the book "Born to Trot" was made, Hambletonian was released in resin by Breyer in 2000.

Believe it or not, that still leaves some of Mrs. Henry's horses out of the Breyer line-up.  Among the missing are  Maestoso Borina from "White Stallion of Lipizza," Gaudenzia from "Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio," Charlie from "Five O'Clock Charlie," Rosalind from "Born to Trot," and the foal Chip from "The Little Fellow."

With some imagination, you can use some existing Breyers to fill in the gaps.  The unnamed horse from the Spanish Riding School of Vienna gift set could be Maestoso Borina, and Pamplemousse could be Five O'Clock Charlie.  I'd probably use the Thoroughbred Mare for Rosalind, the J.C. Penney grey Halla as Gaudenzia, and Willow from the Cricket and Willow set as Chip.  But that's just me.

I used to have more of Mrs. Henry's horses in my collection than I do right now, but I still have many of the molds created as Marguerite Henry horses in other colours, including Brighty, San Domingo, Sham, Lady Roxanna, Misty's Twilight, and Sea Star.

I think it's wonderful that Breyer has put so much effort into creating these molds specifically for the Marguerite Henry horses, and into continuing to use those molds for other horses after their initial run.  And even though Marguerite Henry is gone now, I hope they will continue to honour her horses and maybe even create a few new molds to fill in all those missing links.  

Of all Mrs. Henry's title horses (those that are the main characters in their own books) produced by Breyer, only Black Gold and Midge (from "Our First Pony") do not have their own molds.  We could certainly use a new Shetland Pony for Midge, while Black Gold (whose two appearances have both been on the San Domingo mold) surely deserves a sculpture of his own. Having Rosalind, a trotter, to go with Breyer's pacer would also be nice and a palio set with Gaudenzia would be a great addition to Breyer's horse and tack line.

Maybe they'll do it -- who knows?  Until then, at least we have all of the rest of our old friends to keep us company.