LJ Roulette by Laurie Jensen
If you know me, you know I love vintage customs. I love them to pieces, even if they are in pieces. They may be scruffed up, with ratty manes and tails, and yellowed and neglected, but I love them all the same. And because of this love, I avidly collect them. What is a vintage custom? Well, artists back then took a plastic model horse, typically a Breyer horse, and customized it into a one–of–a–kind new piece. Think of it as taking a Harley–Davidson cycle and "chopping" it into a new bike. Or a Dungeons and Dragons miniature and redoing it into a unique game piece. And as for age, generally speaking, it's any piece that's ten years old from the present. However, my focus is on those created from the 70s–mid90s, with a special focus on the 80s. To me, that was the Golden Age of customizing, when artists were exploring the possibilities of the genre with enthusiastic abandon. When the custom was King! Artists reimagined molds into lovely new breeds and positions, and loaded with expression and charm, they endear me endlessly. There's something special about a vintage custom. A kind of innocence, spontaneity, and intensity of intent that captures my heart and inspiration. All things were possible with just a bit of novel imagination and the gumption to realize it.
Even more, each artist was very distinctive. Sue Rowe made an interesting observation that since live shows were so rare, artists essentially created in isolation, in a vacuum. So each one was creating their works with little influence on each other. This resulted in a variety of very unique artistic interpretations not so common today.
LJ Harlequin's Hoopla by Laurie Jensen
Lunar Verse by Thomas Bainbridge
TriStar Tristan by Stephani Robson
Sweet Winds Gloria by ? Sumner
Jemez Electric Sashay by Lynn Fraley
Lady Angelina by Julie Froelich with facial detail by Nancy Strowger
Fire King by Nancy Strowger
Sugar Drift by Sue Guffy
In particular, I tend to collect works by Julie Froelich, Nancy Stronger/Jason Ross/Sarah King, Laurie Jo Jensen, Linda Leach, Linda Watson–McCormick, Thomas Bainbridge, Bev Zimmer, Kathy Maestas, Ed Gonzales, Michelle Grant, Chris Flint, Lesli Kathman, Laura Behning, Carol Williams, Lynn Fraley, Sue Guffy, Stephani Robson, Karen Caldwell, Kay Fowler (now Myers), Janice Brent–Starr, Sue Sudekum, Lori Daniels, Kathleen Moody, Chris Jolly, Elaine Lindelef, Karen Gerhardt, John Bellucci, Sue Rowe, Carla Clifford, Beth Peart, and many more. I'd love to get my hands on a vintage Bouras, Pope, Locke, O'Toole, Jones, Easley–Patty, Davidson, Cassavant, Sneathen, Malcor, Rock–Smith, Frank, Hale, Hjerppe, Woods, Baum, Kistler, Shimbo, Spiesschaert, Spinella, and a Poirier. Clearly, I have a lot of treasure hunting to do! And of course, one can never have too many Froelichs, Strowgers, Rowes, Maestases, Leaches, and Jensens. And I'm open to other artists, of course, as long as the piece in question "fits" into my collection. I like building a cohesiveness to my collection, and it's fun to evaluate works from that perspective, too.
Diamond Rebel Ruse by Kathy Maestas
Mister Mistic by Kay Myers. That's a PAS body with a 5-Gaiter head!
Chinook's Pewter Frost by Michelle Grant
LJ Jazzman by Laurie Jensen
SO Flattermi by Sue Rowe
Chinook's Bask In Glory by Michelle Grant
RM Antique Pearls by Julie Froelich
SO Mocha by Sue Rowe
And learning about each piece's history like the background of their creation, the artist's experience creating them, the shows they won, who previously owned them, their former names, where they've been, and everything possible to be discovered about them is a blast. Plus, certain famous pieces changed customizing altogether, setting a new standard everyone stove to meet. These certain pieces gained a level of notoriety, a fan base, that we rarely see today. Indeed, many of them are so timeless that they can show and win in today's custom rings! Now that's cool!
CZ Pop Art by Lori Daniels
Fadl Pashon by Sonya Johnson
Sun Dipper by Thomas Bainbridge
Indeed, vintage customs come with a rich history behind them, and learning about it is part of the fun of collecting them. For example, I found RM Arrowsmith in a recent eBay auction, a horse directly from Julie Froelich's hand–drawn sales list way back in 1979! Yes! Sales lists were often hand–drawn since photo copying at the time was so expensive and primitive! Sometimes horses were sold blind, people depending entirely on the artist's reputation to deliver a beautiful horse. Horses were often sold with a sire and dam, too, since breeding assignments were so popular back then. It was a very different world in the past, a fun and fantastic one.
Smooth As Silk by Chris Cook (now Flint)
RM Ring Wraith by Julie Froelich. One of her early pieces, from 1979!
Wizard's Vale Imhotep by Karen Gerhardt
Vintage customs also embody wonderful memories for me. A time when I first started showing and customizing, a time of heady naivety and boundless eagerness to learn and do and see more more more! When every piece was a revelation, a challenge, an imaginative thing to oogle and appreciate. Of a time when I viewed certain artists as impossibly talented rock stars—and still do! And I learned how to customize, paint, and sculpt from these early artists. Some of them were my mentors and guides through the delightful mania of equine collectibles, and I still value all their sage advice and pointers. They still hold true. They also remind me of when I was meeting my lifelong friends for the first time, and the excitement of getting to know them, and meeting more. Vintage customs encapsulate my madcap introduction, newness, and wild abandon in the world of creating and showing equine collectibles. Good memories, every one.
LJ Dreamazon by Laurie Jensen
Kamaal by Lee Francis
Karnival Kat by Kathleen Moody
And because I love them so much, I host and sponsor vintage custom shows. They're judged by People's Choice so voters can choose their winners based on whatever criteria they like. They can apply breed standards, anatomy, color, or simply because they think the piece is cool. This adds so much fun to judging, and people really enjoy voting for their favorites. Such shows also inspire people to talk about the past, and how things were different back then. They get to remembering those fun days when things were more relaxed and casual. When artists created simply for the fun of it, and some had friendly, fun–filled rivalries to see who could come up with the most novel idea.
LJ CopperJax by Laurie Jensen
Chinook's Royal Rave by Michelle Grant. One of her very first pieces! I still have to restore his hair.
Calypso by Lyn Raftis.
I hosted such a show at Breyerwest, and it was a huge hit! People loved walking down memory lane, and enjoying the work these artists did again. Too many have forgotten, or have never been introduced! I'm also holding another one in association with NAN! Yes! NAN! You can download the prospectus here. Ardith Carlton is also hosting VCMEC: Vintage Custom Model Equine Congress. It's in Michigan, this weekend, and I provided most of the awards. This is the first show of its kind, and hopefully will be the beginning of a wonderful new trend in showing!
RM Dark Angel by Julie Froelich
Rocket Risque by Diane Capwell
RM Steel Sorbet by Julie Froelich
RM Dark Desire by Julie Froelich
Blackberry Bramble by Lesli Kathman
Blackberry Sparkles by Lesli Kathman
Glitter n' Shine by Carol Williams
Opal Berry by Laurie Jensen with facial markings by Lesli Kathman
TuffEnuff by John Bellucci
Spotz n' Dotz by Linda Watson–McCormick
Diamond Caramelle Queen by Kathy Maestas
And I don't mind the anatomical or conformation flaws. Pieces back then weren't as exacting as they are now. Pieces were made for fun. And they have so much character! Plus, no matter how crazy the idea, like swapping body parts, changing standing models into moving ones, or moving ones into standing ones, or jumping ones into standing, cantering, or trotting ones, the artists went there. It's fun to try and guess what mold the artist started with!
Dark Night's Aphrodite by Kimberley Harvey
Celestielle by Janice Brent Starr. This piece is ceramic!
Jemez Demon Dare by Lynn Fraley
Bobbi Jo Reed by Nancy Strowger
Blackberry Brandy by Lesli Kathman
Solitary Man by Carol Williams
So when a vintage piece comes up for sale or auction, the bidding is often fast and furious as each collector tries to add more pieces to their beloved collection. And the older and rarer the better. Froelichs, Strowgers, Rowes, and Maestases are particularly hot items. And vintage collectors are a patient bunch. Heck, I waited 18 years for LJ Roulette to come onto the market, and I snatched him up with manic joy. And I'm still waiting for LJ Amaretto to pop up for sale in eager anticipation (16th from the top).
Reversal Of Fortune by Lisa Rivera
Stormfront by Elaine Lindelef
Prairie Princess by Beth Peart. She also made the costume!
The vintage custom is coming back in popularity in style! People are bringing them out of their boxes, dusting them off, and showing them off. They're skimming sales to snap up a rare treasure. It's great to see this resurgence, this blossoming re–interest in our history and the artists who created it. So consider adding a couple of vintage customs to your collection. Join the fun! Be part of this eager community who'll savor your piece as much as you do, and for the same reasons. So be proud of them, and show them off. You own a bit of our history! You own something that's a one–of–a–kind example of the foundation of our arts. And you'll have saved one more piece from obscurity!
LJ Vendetta Kiss by Laurie Jensen
DQ Sunrise Shaman by Linda Leach
WBP Poise n' Ivy by Chris Jolly
And by the way, look for my article on vintage customs in the next issue Equine Collectibles! Not only are there lots of pictures, but interviews with many of the artists themselves! It was a joy to write, and to connect with these artists. They had so many fun insights to share, and ideas that still apply today. These artists were the trailblazers, the fountainhead of all the arts today in the equine collectibles world. We might think we're the first to do something, yet everything we've done really finds its origin in the past with the methods and innovations of these talented artists. And they had such primitive materials to work with! They truly worked magic with them. They shouldn't be forgotten, and their works should be treasured, no matter how tattered it may be.
Java Jinx by Bev Zimmer
DQ Infrared Fred by Linda Leach
Whiskey Myst by Laura Behning
We should celebrate our past rather than sweeping it under the rug. The world of showing equine collectibles has a strange amnesia, concerned mostly with what's new and what will win. It often dispenses with the past as obsolete and antiquated as a result. But our past is exciting and full of wonderful pieces, artists, and ideas to discover. Our shared past is unique and special, and worthy of a great big bear hug. It's worth revisiting and showcasing...it's fun, delightful, and inspiring. So gang, let's see more blog posts about your vintages! Share them with the world, and get others into collecting them, too!
LJ Diva Dawn by Laurie Jensen
Velvet Vixen by Cathy Von Matt
Angelique by Linda Watson–McCormick
RM Arrowsmith by Julie Froelich. Another of her early pieces from 1979. That's him, in the hand–drawn (by Julie herself!) sales list!
StarFire by Linda Watson–McCormick
So until next time...viva the vintage custom!
"Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone."
~ Wendell Berry