Tuesday, October 22, 2019

More on Sculptor Virginia Orison: Horse Show Awards

Horse medallions are popular among many model horse collectors these days.  I was reminded of that, when I saw this 4 August 1963 article in the Salt Lake City, Utah Tribune newspaper on Idaho equine artist Virginia Orison. 

It seems that, in addition to her model horse figurines, she also designed horse show awards -- "horse heads used as center highlights on ribbon rosettes."

Something else to look out for, as collectors visit estate sales and antique malls?

Here are two other blog posts I've done on Virginia Orison's work:  

An overview of Orison, her life and work:


Two Orison model horses, and examples of her tack, are shown at the end of this post: 


Monday, October 21, 2019

Illuminating Model Horse Hobby History (one yard sale at a time)

When I go out in search of used model horses in second-hand venues -- estate sales, yard sales, thrift stores, antique malls and the like -- I'm not just looking for the models themselves, although they are wonderful to find. 

I am also looking for clues to the history of the hobby. Specifically, what did people collect in the years after World War II, when Breyer and Hagen-Renaker and Hartland were just starting to mass-market their figurines? Are there connections between model horses and real horses that were popular in that period of time? How did collectors find out about model horses, and where did they buy them? 

In retail stores, yes, but also through the mail. In fact, some model horse figurines were only available by mail. Many were hand-crafted, often painted to order. And one of the best places to find model horse figurines you could get through the mail, was Western Horseman magazine.

This morning I went out to the remains of a weekend yard sale not far from my house, having learned that there were some model horse figurines there. What I found was a cache of early model horse hobby history unlike any I have ever seen before.  

It was obvious, from the nature of the collection, that this person ordered model horses through the mail between about 1948 and the early 1960s.   

I'll get to those in a minute, but first I want to show you the metal horse figurines. 

These are all Gladys Brown Edwards designs produced by Dodge, Inc.  The trophy plaque is dated 1953; the horse is metal but the base is ceramic. I have never seen that in a Dodge piece before.

Marking on the base of the foal. 

Marking on the base of the Western horse.

Plaque on the inside of the trophy.

 Next, there were some small metal horses marked GERMANY.  

And some other metal equines.  The two saddle horses and the mule are marked JB for Jennings Brothers.

I couldn't leave these two little carved wooden horses there, so they came home with me as well.  (I know someone who collects wooden animals, and Christmas is coming!)

There were several Mortens Studio figurines at the sale. These two came home with me. I had never seen a Mortens Studio cow before. 

She has a very expressive face!

This is how I know the previous owner bought some of his horse figurines through magazine ads. This "Quarter Horse in Miniature, For Home, Office and Den" appears in issues of Western Horseman starting in 1948; I've also seen ads for it, and other designs by Ace Powell, through the early 1950s.

Signature on the base.

A 1956 ad in Western Horseman shows me a ceramic Quarter Horse by Lee Burnham, with a great deal of personality.

He was at the yard sale, too. 

Artist's signature.

This Thoroughbred race horse lost his saddle years ago.

I haven't been able to find information on these two yet.  (I will update this post, if and when I do.) "Corky" the ceramic palomino is signed "S. Rice." 

This metal pinto horse is unsigned.

The base shows holes for mounting it on a base.

But the pieces I was the most happy to find, were by the mail-order equine artist whose work I have admired since I was too young to afford Western Horseman: Virginia Orison of Idaho. Here is the Saddlebred, who lost his bridle at some point along the journey.

And the Virginia Orison Arabian with Western tack. The damage to the horse's foreleg shows us the metal armature. 

Part of the missing chunk of leg was included with the horse,
so I will be able to at least partially restore the damage.

There were also two extra Orison saddles and bridles, probably meaning that other Orison horses were lost or irreparably damaged over the years.

Today's model horse history discoveries remind me of one of the final lines in the classic film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade."  Sean Connery's character tells Harrison Ford's character that he didn't seek the Holy Grail; he was looking for "illumination."   

Most people active in the model horse hobby talk about the "grail" horse or horses they would love to find. Today, having finally found these model horses I've been reading about all my life, I didn't just find some grails; I consider myself Illuminated.


Here's the film clip:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRXw1FzOz5M

Here's my previous blog post on Virginia Orison:  

Monday, October 7, 2019

Model Horse Figurines, Large and Small: The Blackhawk Museum, Danville, California

Children's cowboy dress-up outfits, on either side of
Fred Harman's classic comic strip cowboy
Red Ryder and his horse, Thunder,
with Little Beaver and Papoose at their sides. 

I always enjoy seeing examples of how model horse figurines intersect with other parts of equine history, so I was pleased when I recently visited the Blackhawk Museum in Danville, California.

The "Spirit of the West" exhibition strives to show a balance between the experience of Native Americans and settlers. I was interested to see a couple of life-size fiberglass horses on display. This Appaloosa reminds me of the Thoroughbred designed by Gladys Brown Edwards.

On the other side of the exhibit, a large rearing fiberglass horse represents Buffalo Bill's horse. It reminded me strongly of the Breyer Fighting Stallion.

(Not the best fit on the browband of the bridle, but still pretty impressive.)

On the other end of the scale, there were countless tiny horse figurines in the massive (understatement) topographic table of Western US settlement, originally designed by Jerry Fick.  Some of the horses appear to have been made by Britains, Ltd.  Others might have come from farm sets or cowboy sets. And one looked a lot like the Hartland Tinymite Quarter Horse.  

On another floor of the museum, pop culture including several comic book, film, and radio/television cowboys dominated the scene, as well as a coin-operated horse ride often found in front of a grocery store or supermarket.

This part of the exhibit includes an impressive grouping of Hartland Horse & Rider figurines.

(Some sharp-eyed plastic pony collectors have pointed out to me that the solid black horse at the top of this photo appears to be a Breyer, not a Hartland.
Still, as an exhibit curated by non-model horse collectors, it's impressive.)

There was a silver saddle set, along with a silver or silver plated Western horse figurine.

And a team of four Breyer running mares in bay, pulling a stagecoach.  The mirror behind them made it problematic to get a decent picture, but I gave it a try.

 The Western Horse as decorative object was also on display.

Several displays showed things from a time, not all that long ago, when media cowboys were as popular then as the Marvel universe is today.

William Boyd, aka Hopalong Cassidy, and his horse, Topper.

Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
This is a kid-sized Roy Rogers brand saddle.

These outfits belonged to entertainer Montie Montana.

Here's a link to the website for the Museum:  https://blackhawkmuseum.org/oldwest/