Friday, April 14, 2017

Vintage Customs in Equine Collectibles Magazine



Vintage Customs are making a rambunctious comeback, being pulled from their dusty boxes and shelves to find new life in the growing number of Vintage Custom shows and divisions. It seems we want to remember our past as though we yearn for something too-long forgotten. Truly, Vintage Customs embody a charm, an innocence, a naive earnestness that speaks to the time when our arts were being discovered and developed. Essentially, we were learning what we're all about, and Vintage Customs show us loud and clear that we're fundamentally a creative, imaginative bunch. And even more so, that no matter our tastes or ambitions, we're united under one flag with our love of all things equine. 

In this way, the Vintage Custom represents more than itselfit epitomizes our aspirations, our wide-eyed, enthusiastic celebration of the horse. It's something uniquely "us" that, like a road map, tracks our evolution as an art form and as a community. It also brings us together by reaffirming our winsome memories and enduring ties, being the nexus for so many of our friendships and aspirations. The Vintage Custom also reminds us of who we were, giving us better perspective on where we're going now. In this light, each one is a beautiful little time capsule imbued with all our hopes and dreams during that optimistic, dynamic period in our history where anyone could take up tool and brush to customize and find validation. It was the Age Of The Do-It-Yourselfer, when creativity eclipsed everything else and herds of ever-ambitious creations filled our rings. It was also when more people participated with their own creations rather than being so dependent on sought-after artists. The focus was on the fun and innovation of customizing, and everyone seemed to try their hand at customizing in some measure.

During those heady days, artistic styles, innovations, and new prerogatives arose as artists experimented and challenged themselves, forging brand new territory on the fly. Nothing was impossible given a bit of gumption and ingenuity! They were the pathfinders, the fountainhead of all our arts today. So few realize it now, but every aspect of today's creativity finds its root in the past with these pioneering artists, and we owe them a great deal for their perseverance, cleverness, and playfulness. We "stand on the shoulders of giants" as it were.

And it's hard for us to imagine nowadays with so many kinds of materials and how-to resources, but these foundation artists started out with nothingno process or materials or guidelines! They had to develop all their techniques and discover what media worked through sheer experimentation.

Very early 70s repainted PAS by Julie Froelich.

"My first real custom horse was done when I was in high schoolin the mid-seventies," reminisces D'Arry Jone Frank. "I was already quite into everything artsy, drawing and painting, so to integrate with my model horse collecting seemed like a natural progression! The Indian Pony always seemed to me to look a lot like the show hunters we had at the barn, I thoughtI could modify her to be a ThoroughbredIndeed, I thought, why had no one else thought of that? Of course, this project presented a series of problems that I had not anticipatedthe biggest of which was the huge butt hole once I sawed off her tail! Remember, this was the seventies, no one was customizing so much as repainting and hairingthe most complicated we got was slightly moving a leg with hot water! (Which I did with her back leg.) I fixed the hole with paper glued down, and then covered it with Lee NailsTM, which was an acrylic fingernail lengthener that involved dipping a brush into a liquid catalyst and then into resin powdernot made for filling in a two inch-sized hole! There was a lot of sanding involved, I didn't even know what a DremelTM was back then. I carved the tail from the original, sanded off the mane, and made braids out of embroidery floss and glued them on. I did my best with acrylic paints and a brush, and shellacked the whole thing with clear nail polish! Look Me Over was a true labour of love, I even packed her and took her with me to riding school in England, just so I could look at her whenever I wanted to. And the funny thing is, I still have her. She's on a shelf in my studio, and her customizing looks exactly the same as the day I did it, no lifting, or flaking, or cracking! Go figure."

Liz Bouras shares, "I never really collected original finish plastics when I joined the model horse hobby in 1972 with my first issue of Linda Walter's The Model Horse Shower's Journal. [I] realized I could do something else with my Breyers and they all became repaint/remake fodder. I still remember the first piece I paintedit was a Proud Arabian Stallion to a dappled grey. I tried to mimic the way the dapples were painted on my Beswick chinas by painting the grey around the 'dapple' area. He was very ambitious, considering I was around eleven or twelve and he was a photo show Champion! I've always loved dappled grey, here forty-four years later I'm still trying to paint them."

Beth Peart reveals, "I started showing, but right away I looked at my models and thought, 'Nah, I can make this better.' I started painting them, and no, at the beginning, I couldn't make them better. I remember once using a paint that totally lifted the original finish off the horse! So I switched to acrylics. That worked better, but I didn't feel satisfied because I could see all the brush strokesit dried too quickly and didn't blend well enoughI saw in some pictures how people had tried adding hair to manes and tails using PhentexTM and fake fur, or wig hair and I thought it looked so fake, because it was the wrong scale and the shine was all wrong, but I didn't like the original plastic hair either. I liked the idea of 'real' hair, [but] didn't want that out-of-scale look, so I began to experiment with different materials. I settled on rayon butcher's cord, that could be soaked to get the starch out of it, then brushed out and fashioned any way I wanted it. Then I began to see possibilities in the repositioning the horsesMy dad had a workshop with tools. I began to saw apart my models and screw them into new positions, filling the gaps and re-shaping using a custom blend of non-toxic filler I made myself. Then I painted them in oils and replaced the manes and tails with rayon fiber from butcher cord that was the perfect scale and could be dyed to any colour." Beth goes onto say, "In the end, at the top of my game, what fulfilled me was having a vision of what I could accomplish and seeing it to fruition. In some ways it was like being possessed. I'd get an idea in my head about a particular model and then just go with it."

CM PAM by John Bellucci.

"Strangely enough, it was my tragic attempts at sewing that taught me how to cut what amounted to 'darts' in the plastic to allow it to expand, or bend at different points," shares Julie Froelich. "Trying to find body fillers was a challenge, since I didn't have enough experience in auto repair. 'Weird' runs (or gallops) in my family, and my mother would have rather been doing something creative or fun any day of the month rather than housework, so she was willing to participate in letting me cook model horses on the kitchen stove, take over the picnic table for photo shoots, and hold the stick with the invisible thread holding up my jumping horse going over fences with no visible support."

Paula O'Keefe says about Judy Renee Pope, "Without a doubt, Judy's major challenge as a beginner was having no idea how people achieved the results they did, what materials were used or how to find them. Living in a smallish northeast Missouri city in the days before the Internet, with one antique hobby store and very few resources, it was a real effort to get started. We did horses with carved wooden replacement legs, remade with wood putty and pottery clay, cut plastic by heating E-xactoTM knives in the stove's gas pilot light. Mad science!"

Chris Flint relates, "Everything was a challenge back then! There were no instructions of mentors when I started out (1967). I learned everything by trial and error. As I became more experienced, I experimented with different materials to learn what made the best filler, for example. Or how to heat the plastic more efficiently. Or what worked better for shaping, etc. A lot of trail and error!"

CM Indian Pony by Bev Zimmer.

"Gosh it's been so long ago, I hardly remember," says Laura Hornick-Behning. "I'd say the main challenge was the customizing materials at that time were so limited. There really wasn't anything around to fill gaps in CM models but wood filler. It was hard to sand flush with the plastic surface. And it wasn't durable. It would lift and create lumps. In the early 80s epoxy ribbon became available. It was a blue and yellow ribbon (Part A and Part B) that you mixed together to make a green epoxy. It was a little more durable but gummy to sand and hard to get as smooth as today's epoxies. My husband, Jim (who I was dating at the time), was a big help. He started me into using BondoTM to smooth over the wood filler, and with that you could get the [customized] areas a lot more level and even."

Bev Zimmer shares, "I started reworking the models because I wanted a look that I couldn't find at the time. Through fumbling and with remaking, and corresponding with others, I ended up seeing similar work out there. It was just as well I figured it out because I couldn't afford to have someone else make my 'dream horses.' I was thirteen when I started."

"When I discovered the model horse community in 1985," Maria Hjerppe reveals, "Sweden was pretty much a desolate wasteland from an equine miniature point of view. There was a handful of Swedish hobbyistsmaybe five or sixand it was almost impossible to find OF models of any kindand let's not even talk about customs!As a result, if you wanted a custom, you more or less had to create them yourself. I remember attending my first live show in 1986 and being absolutely blown away from the works of UK artists Keren Woods (now Gilfoyle-McGroarty) and Tamara Driver. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be able to create such magnificent, magical creatures. Needless to say my first creations were neither magnificent nor magical, but I cheerfully kept at it with all of the enthusiasm of youth."

CM PAS/5-Gaiter Head by Mary Sue Humphries.

"I spent two years saving up $300 in a film canister to afford sharing a ride down to Chicago with Judy Claspill to [the] Model Horse Congress," says Julie Froelich of the biggest show at the time, hosted by Marney Walerius. "I'd found out about model horse showing via the Breyer Clubif I recall correctlyand had started showing with photos taken on my dad's 35mm camera, but live showing was new. That had to have been some time in the late 70s? Anyway, I did pretty well for someone who was totally clueless, and attempting to invent the wheel of model horsedom on my own in furthest northern Wisconsin on my own. So when I got to Congress and saw the customized models that Kathy Maestas was selling, it was kind of mind-blowing to me. I'd painted stock Breyers and even haired them (most notably one with a hank of my sister's hair stuck into a hole in its butt), but this was a whole new thing to me. No way could I afford the Maestas horses. I spent quite a lot of time wandering back to the Maestas booth and staring at the objects of my desire, fruitlessly. Eventually, Marney Walerius and I were discussing the remakes and she gave me some vital clues that the plastic they were made out of could be softened with heat and bentSo off to a sales table where I purchased for $3 each, a Proud Arabian Mare and a Proud Arabian Stallion, who I took home, brain afire, to construct my version of Frankenstein's Laboratory. I was soon to learn about 'spaghetti'ed' legs, toxic burning plastic, deformed heads, and other joys of how to reshape plastic."

Julie goes onto say, "Maybe it was a good thing that I couldn't afford the Maestas horses because it forced me to figure out how to on my own. Otherwise, I probably would have spent the next years of my life trying to scrape up money to buy other people's horses instead of making my own. Probably the closest thing I could get to one of my youthful dreams of being a horse breeder. And, yep, it got me pretty pumped up when I'd come up with some new idea or method to add to my workthings like veining, carving in frogs, and making shoes on a little mini-anvil I had from my days in Art Metal in college, etc." She goes onto reveal, "My sister is the one who turned me on to Museum Wax, that I used to affix bits to model's mouths without damage, or drilling a hole in the horse, etc. To my knowledge, I was the first person to use that for my show horses and it blew people's minds when I showed my models that way at the next Congress. By the next year, it was the standard method of holding bits in place. Not to aggrandize because it was Joy's idea and not mine."

Julie further shares, "Between wishing for Arabian horses I couldn't afford, and models I couldn't afford, I guess that was the real root of my model madness. I will also have to give a real lot of credit to the wonderfully supportive model showers of the time. Sometimes your friends would tease you with a picture of something they'd just created, and you'd tear your hair out trying to figure out how in seven hells they did that! Off to the workbench!"

CM Terrang by Chris Cook (now Flint).

Michelle Grant says, "I would go to horse shows and be inspired by what I saw. Very much like I do now with my paintings. Cruising through the books or magazines, I'd see a lovely photo of a horse and a certain pose that I liked and thought why not recreate a model out of that pose! I was always thinking outside the box, thinking of new and different ways of doing things. Swapping body parts was the next step up from melting and bending a neck to merely change a head position. Why not go totally Frankenstein, and start switching body parts for better ones? For instance, Chinook's H Colleen has an Adios head which is little more refined than the coarsely sculpted Clydesdale Mare head."

Our early artists were the vanguard, the innovators who broke new ground both with methods and materials, but also when it came to our expectations. Indeed, as their talents grew, so did our intentions. That is to say as they refined their abilities, our goals shifted with them in kind, becoming progressively focused on technical realism and quality workmanship. It was a lively time for our arts as they laid down then promptly reinvented the baselines with each new piece, causing the evolution of our arts to gallop forwards at a dizzying speed. They set the pace, and just like that, we can thank them for our almost-mad fixation on excellence and accuracy which has defined our arts today.

Yet they created their beautiful pieces in a vacuum of their own abilities, imaginations, and technologies unlike today when we're all so connected and informed. Everything they created was a product of their own resourcefulness and willingness to stretch their own boundaries as they sought to capture evermore ambitious embodiments of their fantastical visions. And with their innocence and exuberance, they inspired anyone to believe they could do it, toothat anyone could take up the reins and create their own dream horse. It was truly a time of possibility and opportunity, something that's been compromised in recent years perhaps.

Elizabeth LaRose insightfully says, "I like the exuberance you see in themthe wild imaginative thoughts people had and the way these were worked out in the conversion of an existing factory-made sculpt into something completely different and totally outside that particular box. Sometimes that vision came at the expense of anatomical accuracy, because the materials or means were not available to pull that off, and yet people went there anyway, mitigating that problem with dramatic paint work, dazzling conformational attributes like an exquisitely re-carved head, expressively-haired manes and tails, a photograph with the model wistfully examining a distant, almost magical horizon. I get the same tingly feeling from seeing photos of the older horses now that I did when I was a little girl."

"Early vintage customs shed light on what could be achieved by artists who had never seen anything of that level of realism, yet the artists pressed on, developing their styles and raising the bar for themselves and all other artists of the time with each new piece," shares Karen Beeson. "I'm especially intrigued by the early work of Julie Froelich and Nancy Strowger. I love to study the evolution of an artist's work. Which techniques and styles does an artist keep, and what does an artist further develop or discard over their artistic career? It seems that Julie Froelich adopted both ear carving and her 'scrubby brush' painting style very early on, during the 1970s. She appears to have used those early skills as a launching point to similar, but improved techniques as the years went on. It seems that she also developed her impeccable hairing techniques around that same early date. The technique was lovely and realistic, and remained much the same in her 1990s works. These artists have been inspiring and instructing me since I was a pre-teen. Thirty years later, my continued study of their work brings me new insights leading to improvement of my own art."

CM Lady Phase by Julie Froelich.

Isn't it interesting to "track" an artist's development over the years by studying their Vintage Customs? We can literally see each 'lightbulb moment" in their body of work. This makes Vintage Customs especially important since they contain within them these progressive steps that speak to the development of our arts. They're objects of living history. Today there seems to be a kind of communal amnesia about our colorful past, especially since the motivation often is to obtain the latest and greatest Artist Resin. Yet it's the Vintage Custom that reminds us of our roots, and in the truest sense, the Vintage Custom is the direct precursor to the Artist Resin. By coming to appreciate the Vintage Custom then, we come to fully embrace our community, in all the diversity and ingenuity it continues to have. Each piece has its own story to tell from the moment of its creation to its show ring past to how it now gives a voice to a time when our arts were in full bloom. Anyone could customize and was encouraged to do so, and still have a place in the show ring with their special creations. The Vintage Custom harkens back to when we created our own works simply for the pleasure of it, and for the privilege of sharing our creations with others.

"My past work reflects the time in which it was created," says Sue Rowe. "The 1970s horses with their fake fur manes and tails were cutting edgeha ha and true. At first we didn't even remove a model's original plastic mane and tail. We simply glued fake fur over the painted plastic. Oh, the glorious puffball tails of the day!" She adds, "As artists we shared experiments and knowledge with each otherwe were free to plunge ahead. Mohair? Woo hoo! Bondo? Thank you very much! Soldering irons as 'welding" tools? Awesome!Carbone's Epoxie Putty was also a game changer."

Sue also observes, "As one of the former 'movers and shakers,' I tried my best to learn from the best and also share what I discovered on my own. We had no social media. We saw each others' actual models only occasionally. And if we were busy showing or judging there was little time to discuss customizing techniques. Perhaps that's why we see so many distinct styles in the early customs. Julie Froelich's horses looked different than Sue Rowe's. Sue's look different than D'Arry's. D'Arry's look different than Chris' or Carol's or Lee's. Collectors could choose from a wide variety of work." This pronounced distinctiveness of style and vision is characteristic of the Vintage Custom because the expectations at the time were much broader and non-specific. Indeed, collecting different Vintages isn't just amassing different models, but assembling markedly different artistic perspectives. In a very real sense, each artist represented their own idiosyncratic "school of thought" when it came to aesthetics and, as such, to behold a Vintage Custom is to discover a specific artistic outlook wholly unique to that artist. This makes preservation even more important since each Voice was totally novel and which helped to lay down the chords by which we sing today.

In response, a growing number of collectors recognize the inherent value of these almost-forgotten treasures and seek to preserve what little is left of our history. In a way, collecting Vintage Customs isn't just a memorialization of our past, but something rather rebellious in the current environment that seems to exclusively favor the new. Being so, the Vintage Custom community is growing and gladly welcomes anyone interested in the appreciation and preservation of the Vintage Custom. We scour sales and share with each other our finds, relishing the stories and remembrances they inspire. 

Laurie Jensen shares, "What do I think of the Vintage Community? I love them! I love Vintage Customs (many of them are still big time winners today)and these old horses hold their own quite nicely in the present day show ring. It is so nice to see my old work being cared for and loved. This is the thingwhen one of my horses is cherishedI feel cherished. Maybe that's weird but that's how I feel. I feel truly blessed to have someone value my work and care for it so it does not end up in a dumpster. That horse is a piece of my lifemy time, that I can never get back. When someone enjoy's my work it makes me feel very special."

CM Justin Morgan by Laura Hornick-Behning.

Maria Hjerppe adds, "Many of the oldies are important pieces and integral parts of our rich community history. It is fabulous when they find their ways to loving, caring homes and are preserved for the future. In cases where the artists have passed on, the horses are beautiful, permanent reminders of the talent that once was. I am happy and grateful that a number of collectors have made it their mission to collect, love, and preserve these golden oldies."

Nostalgia for the past is starting to burble up, wafting through the community, urging us to stop a moment and remember. Andheckwhile the 80s were three decades ago, they still feel like yesterday to many of us! But our memories matter, our bonds are longstanding, and our shared history is even more relevant today. The delightful days of our past beckon us back to a time when things were more relaxed, friendly, and inclusive, when fun, creativity, and camaraderie were more important than winning. When innovation was renewed and creative novelty rejuvenated not just with each new piece, but with each new artist who tried their hand with clay or pigment. We've allowed ourselves to forget far too much, and our community has suffered for it.

Being so, Vintage Customs remind us of this timely lesson: Our community thrives best when inclusion is the motivator for our activity, not exclusion. As such, the Vintage Custom suggests that our arts community should embrace and support rather than discourage and disenfranchise. Folks should be excited to dive into our arts, and be confident in the belief that their efforts will find a place in our show rings. When we look back on our past, as Vintage Customs ask of us, we find that our arts best bloom when they're unburdened by having to be "the best" and are allowed to simply exist on its own terms. As we move forward through our growing pains then, the Vintage Custom encourages us to reconsider our priorities, even re-envision our motivations and goals to renew that energy from the past that compelled our participation in the first place. The Vintage Custom continues to uphold that unifying flag, reaffirming our community and advocating for our arts.

So join the unfolding story! Add a Vintage Custom to your collection and come along with those of us who love these historical creations for all that they mean to uspast, present, and future. They've brought us so much welcome enjoyment and cherished memories back in the day, and continue to do so even now with their significance, quirkiness, flair, and singular appeal. They're the very basis of our artistic dialogue, the very words of the proverbial artistic language we speak today. Even now, they still speak to us with the same intensity and moxie they once inspired as embodiments of all our everlasting dreams. All that's old is new again, and all that's new is really quite old. Vintage Customsthey continue to capture our hearts and stir our imaginations as timeless testaments to our vibrant creativity and our shared love of the equine!

Featured Artists

This has been a condensed version of a two-part series on the Vintage Custom for Equine Collectibles magazine. To read the full transcript, ask for back issues Summer 2016 and Winter 2016. Subscribe to Equine Collectibles here

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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 popularityPeople 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 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