Monday, January 7, 2019

Customized Model Horses from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s

Every time I attend a "live" model horse event, I keep an eye out for old friends. Not just the human kind, but also the "vintage custom" kind of model horse figurine.   Vintage customs are growing in popularity, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to find them (in varying states of disrepair) among other used model horses for sale.

My own experience with customized model horses dates back to the early 1970s, when I first became aware that model horse collectors who were also artists repainted, repositioned, and/or added details such as "hair" manes and tails to model horses.

Some of the earliest "repaints" (as we called them at the time) were pretty straightforward -- oil-based or acrylic details like a blaze and stockings added to a solid-colored model horse.  Or, collectors would repaint the entire horse. 

Some of the earliest customized horses I've come across recently were done by artist Mary Ann Black between 1973 and 1975.  "MAB," as she was also known at the time, was one of the first brave souls to customize ceramic Hagen-Renaker horses.  Mary Ann would paint the horses and re-fire them in a kiln, making the finish more or less permanent.   Sometimes she would glue hair manes and tails onto the horses as well. Here is a haired Hagen-Renaker "Zilla" Arabian foal.  You can see that she simply added a black pinto pattern on top of the foal's original white factory finish, and then added a hair mane and tail.

Knowing what Hagen-Renakers from the 1970s sell for these days, it may be difficult to believe that people actually repainted them, but bear in mind that adult HR horses sold for less than $5 each back then.    

Most of the model horses I have from the 1970s and '80s were "cold painted," meaning repainted in acrylics or oils over the original finish of the horse.  Here are some examples.

Repainted Breyer Classic Arabian Mare by Sue Daigle:

Repainted Breyer Stablemate Arabian stallion by Cynthia Gardner:

And, finally, this fellow survived a major earthquake. His legs are messy with glue, but he abides: Hagen-Renaker "Lippet" Morgan stallion repainted by Nancy Strowger.

(Yes, someday I will find an artist who can restore his legs without messing up the artist's signature from 1979 on the sole of one hoof!)

If you'd like more information on customized model horses...

Discussions of vintage model horses come up often in the Facebook group Vintage Hobbyists -- Then and Now:

The Vintage Custom Model Equine Center website is here:

Customized model horses are more popular than ever. Many model horse collectors look forward each year to NaMoPaiMo -- National Model Painting Month.  You can find out more information on it here:

I wrote a longer, more detailed version of the story of Mary Ann Black's mixed media Hagen-Renaker horses for the Hagen-Renaker Collectors Club Newsletter in October 2018.  HRCC is a low-cost way to learn more about these iconic American figurines and the people who collect them. The HRCC website is here:

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