Sunday, December 1, 2019

Hagen-Renaker History and a Donkey Mystery: Around Christmas, 1953

The Monrovia, California News-Post did a good job of documenting the history of Hagen-Renaker, Inc. in real time. 

This article appeared at the end of one very busy season for H-R -- in the December 31, 1953 edition of the newspaper.  It chronicled the company's work, along with its affiliated pottery Walker-Renaker.  Interestingly, the newspaper article describes Designers' Workshop as an affiliated business that produced larger animal figurines.  The "Renaker plants" employed almost 100 people (including many women) and had a payroll of $600,000.  

Here's the entire article:

This is The Actual Duck, the first piece ever designed by Maxine Renaker. It was part of the 2018-2019 Hagen-Renaker history exhibit at the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library at Cal Poly Pomona. 

The story quotes John Renaker as saying Hagen-Renaker
had attempted to open a branch in Costa Mesa, California,
in Orange County, about 45 to 50 miles from Monrovia.
It didn't work out.

The article refers to Maureen Love as "Maurice."  (Oops.) 
But the paper got her name right in an important photo caption.
Keep reading!

The photos add more to the story, and help us put faces to the names of some of the company's employees.

Hugh Paris, kiln loader, and various animal figurines. How many different ones can you count? (H-R historians, remember, this photo was published in December 1953.)  

The company  "family" atmosphere is captured in these holiday photos of employees at Walker Potteries. I think perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Walker are on the right, rather than the left as the caption indicates.  

Top photo: Teamwork in the DW plant, with supervisors Lucia Payne, Anne Baker, Margaret Ware, Vesta Crail, William Nicely, and Dorothy Pulin, with designer Nell Bortells in the center.  Bottom photo: Christmas dinner at Walker Potteries.

And now for a serious plot twist: The December 31, 1953 newspaper article was also accompanied by this photo of H-R designers Tom Masterson, Maureen Love, and Helen Perrin (later Farnlund) with some of Maureen's equine art.  Maureen, in the center, is working on what looks like a prototype for the Designers' Workshop B-641 "Donkey Mama," better known by her sticker name "Adelaide."

Not a great copy of the photo, but in it you can see "a donkey," the caption says.   

But look again!

This is a well-known photograph among Hagen-Renaker collectors.  The picture is on the H-R company website. An 8x10" print of the image became part of the Hagen-Renaker history exhibit at the Kellogg Arabian Horse Library.  And author Nancy Kelly used the picture on the cover of her book More Hagen-Renaker Pottery.  She forwarded me a copy:

That's not "a" donkey in the photo.  It's two different donkeys!

What was going on here?  We know that H-R made two Designers' Workshop donkeys, the B-641 jenny "Adelaide" and her B-643 foal "Harry," which were first issued in Fall 1956. 

Here's "Donkey Mama" (better known by her sticker name "Adelaide), with her hat.  

Examples of the B-641 Hagen-Renaker "Donkey Mama" "Adelaide"
from Ed and Sheri Alcorn's Hagen-Renaker Online Museum.

Her foal, "Baby Donkey" (his sticker names him "Harry") was also issued in Fall 1956.

Examples of the B-643 "Harry," also from the Hagen-Renaker Online Museum.  

So who is the donkey on the far right of the photo? It isn't "Adelaide" or "Harry."

"Adelaide" and "Harry" are each standing on all four tiny hooves. This Mystery Donkey is standing with its right hind leg cocked, head turned slightly to the left, ears pointing in different directions. 

Knowing now that the photo was published in December 1953, I turned to the venerable Hagen-Renaker Mold Book, the one-of-a-kind handwritten ledger kept at the H-R factory, listing every mold the company produced.  Hobbyist Gayle Roller painstakingly photographed every page of it several years ago, and Nancy Kelly archived it on her website (link below).

The Mold Book shows that, sometime in 1954 (the entry straddles the line between January and July 1954, the Spring and Fall releases), a "Donkey" with mold number 578 was created for the Designers' Workshop line.

So I think it's possible, perhaps even likely, that this is what the B-578 Donkey looked like.

But it was never put into production.

We'd need more information before we could say for sure that this is the Mystery Donkey B-578. The Monrovia News-Post article, at the very least, provides us with a year for the iconic photo of the three Hagen-Renaker designers, and demonstrates that the origins of "Adelaide" the donkey jenny go back to at least 1953. That makes these donkeys some of Maureen Love's earliest equine designs for Hagen-Renaker, and might help us narrow down which real donkeys posed for Maureen's flat art studies that inspired her 3D designs for Hagen-Renaker.  

And the hometown newspaper story gives us more insight into Hagen-Renaker history and the "family" atmosphere at the company during the holiday season, all those years ago.


Many thanks to Nancy Kelly for assistance in crafting this blog post. Her copy of the 85-page Hagen-Renaker Mold Book can be found here:

Here's a link to the Hagen-Renaker Online Museum website:

1 comment:

  1. Great timing on this post with its focus on the holiday celebrations at H-R. I wish they had put that mystery donkey into production: he's awfully cute.