Friday, May 6, 2016

A Vintage Passion

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 oneofakind new piece. Think of it as taking a HarleyDavidson 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.

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

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.

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 BrentStarr, 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

And it is a treasure hunt! Finding these wonderful old pieces in auctions, thrift stores, flea markets, sales lists and estate sales is part of the fun of collecting them. Rescuing them from the bin or body box is all part of the thrill, too. They're time capsules. Lovely representatives of our history and shared memory lane. We shouldn't dismiss them, but embrace them in the spirit of continuity and discovery. Everything in the equine collectible arts today pays homage to the arts of yesteryear; everything we create today has a direct link to the past. It's wonderful to study vintage customs and compare them to the works of today, seeing the progression and innovation they started so many years ago. It's also cool to see how each artist progressed in their art, tracking their development over the years. Seeing what they learned, how they changed their techniques, what techniques they kept and refined, how their Eye honed, and how their horses improved as a result is fascinating.

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 starsand 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

Now as a vintage custom collector, I look for pieces that have the most integrity to their original vision. They have to be as artistically intact as possible. The date of creation is very important to me, too. I need to know its age before I buy. So if you're selling a vintage piece, it's smart to indicate who did the piece and when. Those are big selling points! But I don't care if they're broken or missing their hair. I can always restore them back to their former glory without changing them away from their original intent. And if they're still around, I contact the original artist for insights as to the original state of the piece like what color hair they used, or what type of paint so I can match it. Many of these artists are no longer with us, however, having gone onto other things. For example, Bev Zimmer went into fine art, and Fara Shimbo now creates crystal glaze pottery (both are incredible, so check 'em out!). And Sue Rowe creates the most wonderful, whimsical bear paintings now.

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

That said, I have a few I won't restore. I prefer them with their hard–won scars. That way I know the entire piece was created by the original artist because restoring them would entail too many potential coverups. So imagine my horror when I learned that some were taking vintage customs and painting over them, even customizing them further, then claiming the work as their own! Not only were these people systematically destroying our shared history, they were claiming false authorship! Each vintage custom is important as an example of our past, and should be cared for, cherished, untouched, or restored back to the original intent when absolutely necessary. 

TuffEnuff by John Bellucci

Spotz n' Dotz by Linda WatsonMcCormick

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

And the vintage custom community has exploded in popularity! People are coming together to share their collections so the rest of us can ooo and aaaah, and happily envy them and their beautiful pieces. Vintage custom collectors love to share their collections, and talk about them and talk about what they love about each piece. They share their memories and what they remember about the past. Some collect pieces simply because they think they're beautiful, while others, like me, also collect specific artists and dates of creation on top of that. Nonetheless, they're a fun bunch, eager to preserve what little is left of our history. I think about all the customs that were made in the past, how prolific so many of the artists were. Where are all the pieces?! There were hundreds, but they're so rare to find nowadays! Where'd they all go?

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'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 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

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