Friday, June 18, 2021

Tuning the Piano


Last Wednesday a ritual was carried out in my house for the first time in 4 years,... one that usually happens every 2 or 3 years.  In theory it's supposed to happen every year, but my history shows every two years to be a good, livable average.  The piano was due for tuning in 2019 and somehow I let it slip until the next year.  UH OH, we all know what happened then --- !!

A friend of mine asked to see more pictures of my piano.  Also, there's some model horse history further down.  Here y'go:  We'll start at the most stripped-down stage.  The surroundings are unnaturally bare here because part of tuning is getting all the stuff off.  Amazingly it took me only half an hour to clear the decks.

Almost everything here has a story.  The gold macrame trombone on the wall was made by my mother.  The bumper sticker on the side says "Don't Shoot!  I'm Just A Piano Player."  The blue polyester cape on the bench was swag from a Free-To-Breathe 5K race I entered (benefit lung cancer).  The padding under the cape is a sheepskin, my first sheepskin given to me by a friend who had moved to New Zealand.  (That was in 1976.  It is my only case of a long-lasting sheepskin.)   You would not believe how comfy to sit on is that slick polyester over the sheepskin...

The red cloth is a fleece-type fabric I've used for [model] harness backpads, viz, Olensky's 8-Horse-Hitch and others.  The black bench originally was openable, but my Dad glued its top shut sometime in the 70s and it has stayed that way ever since.

One of the more beautiful aspects of this 1909 piano is the wood carving on the front panel.  I am pretty sure it was done by hand.  Oak on one side, laurel on the other:  I am not quite sure what these stand for, other than a fuzzy idea of oak for strength and laurel for the arts.  The whole piano was painted fleck black in the 1940s.  We do not know what is underneath the black, if anything;  a few worn places reveal a most luscious wood-color.  I have chosen to keep the black as a protective layer.

This is a Harmon-Wellington upright, built in Denver.  1909 was the high-water mark for piano production in this country.  My mom purchased this piano in Denver in 1966, replacing a miserable red-colored spinet I can just barely remember (I was 6 at the time).  No one knows where it was or what happened to it from 1909 to 1966, other than it was in Denver and got painted.  That amount of time, 57 years, is only now approaching half its age: 112 this year.

Here's the serial number:  128467

The piano went with me when I moved east after my marriage.  I told my husband he had no choice:  It was my foundation, my rock and my soul.  He has put up with it very well, all things considered.  Thank all the saints he doesn't mind ragtime --!

 My tuner is Tom DeFerrari of State College and Clearfield.  He let me talk him into taking this picture right after he finished the job.

An interesting side note to the day was that the previous day I'd been in WalMart for the first time in 15 months,... and wore a mask.  Though I've been vaccinated since February I honestly was frightened:  "Vaxed but Afeared" could've been written on my forehead.  It has been a strange, vacillating experience coming out of pandemic.  Tom is the first stranger in our house without a mask in all this time.  Of course, he was vaccinated; it was the first thing he said when I called him up.  My story contains the weird behaviour of me sneakily slipping off the mask, hiding in the aisles of WalMart, for a few moments, then donning it again.  I started this pandemic with a soft cloth mask, and it looks like I'm ending with one...  In between, over the winter of terror, only a KN95 would do for shopping.  The choice to unmask or not is currently depending on the location (indoors or out), the signage (every business different), the presence of strangers and the knowledge of present company's vax state.  However, I'm sure I'll settle out eventually:  I can tell that the fear will go away in time.

Putting things back starts with my antique serape, given to me by my Grandma Bensema.  She undoubtedly got it in Mexico -- she lived in Tucson.  It is different from all my other serapes in both color and end-tying.  (I'll have to do a blog post on my 30+ serapes some time...)

First, all the stuff on the left hand side.  The trombone, the snow shovel, canes, and the unstrung bobber collection, cherry-picked during years of canoeing.  Oh and the cat litter bag, which is used for sidewalk grit during snow and ice.
Next, starting the stacks of music.  The basket of dried flowers is a memento of my hospitalization and cancer treatments in 2010.  The story here is that we still don't know who gave it to me.   We have our suspicions but he denies it -- !! 

Music, unlike books, has no place to go when I don't use it anymore.  I'm always astounded at how much music I have.
At a rough guess, there's probably three hundred pounds of paper on the piano.

Note that the flag stands are trombone mutes.

 Now for the most personal of all ornaments, the animals.  Chico the Spanish Fighting Bull is a natural counterpoint to the Charcoal Fighting Stallion.  Chico appeared sometime around the middle to late 80s.  But Thomas came into my life in the middle 60s, one of the four oldest models still in my possession.

His position in my collection is unique.  He is not a member of King's Herd.  He is not married and has no personality.  His tail is broken, his leg is broken, he's missing an ear, he's a fatneck and scratched to hell.  And yet he represents a continuous time trace all the way back to my earliest model horse memories.  He is King's brother and of royal blood.

I remember Mom getting him for me because I begged in the toy store (Crossroad's Three Wishes), and then (in the department store J.C. Penney's upstairs, in downtown Boulder in the 60s) I saw an ad for Thomas Organs on the store TV.  His name became Thomas Barton Jefferson.  I have no idea where the Barton came from, unless it was a shortening of my own last name, and it just flowed better with the uneven syllables.

Thomas became part of the piano about when I became its owner, circa 1980, and he's been there ever since.

Are we done yet?  Heavens no.  Where do you suppose I store all my packing materials, garnered from 30 years of collecting model horses?

What a great chance to clean the pile out a little, to consolidate and organize.  There is so much stuff that it's stored in two layers.

The doorway on the right opens to the tack room,...  more on that later.  :)

All things are temporary.  Now that I'm tuned, vaxed and freed,... I've got a case of tendonitis!, so the piano playing is kept at a low level.

But I'm healing.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Akhal Teke No. 4 Finished


Finishing my fourth Akhal Teke set taught me something I've known all along.  But that seems to be the way of the world these days.  No matter how much experience I gained as an artist -- I've been making tack since the middle 70s -- fate still stepped in and saw fit to reinforce the lesson.  Take all the time necessary, it said:  Without that you will have no piece.  It might just as well have said no peace.  My customer (and others) is owed a huge slug of thankfulness for her tremendous patience while I learned that lesson all over again.  Eventually is the name of the game!

Another lesson, much more joyous, was also reinforced.  There's always a surprise in a big photo shoot and this time it happened towards the end.  I swear it was the most idle of spontaneous thoughts to try the bridle and new breastcollar on my NaMoPaiMo horse.  Why pick him? -- he's not a Teke!  He couldn't even wear the neckpieces...  But when I got the bc on him everything changed.  It is downright eerie how incredibly good he looked then.  Words like "Enchanted" and "Moorish" floated in my mind.  There was something there...

I also experimented with photographing tack on black velvet, a FB comment suggestion for me.  But let's begin at the beginning.

This commission was accepted because the customer had entered my Anniversary Tack Giveaway contest, held in July of 2020 during BreyerFest.  A Tack Giveaway   She entered in such a fashion as to move me to extend the giveaway to include her.  Yes, that's what happened:  Apparently I can be persuaded, talked around!!  So now I had to create 2 Akhal Teke sets instead of one.  Both would cost their owners a pretty penny; they were accepted orders and not mere wish orders.  With the TSII, that's a real difference.

The only trouble was that, as you can see, it took nearly a year to fill the second order.

Is this ever on purpose?  Has there ever been a time like 2020??  In 15 months of quarantine I have finished TSII #457 (a year-long saddle at 200 hours), painted a Trad scale horse in a month,  thoroughly restored (and documented the restoration of) another old TSII saddle and created now two Akhal Teke sets for the winners of the contest... and that's just the model stuff.  Somehow there were a thousand other things to do, and my feelings and behaviour have gone from slightly off kilter to strange to just plain weird.  By the end of May I reached a stage where it took til Friday to photograph a piece of tack finished the previous Sunday,... this after making the customer wait a solid 8 months.  AT4 was technically started in October (Oct 28, 2020).  

There was the small comfort that my 1st and 3rd Teke sets took me nearly 70 hours each, while this one had taken a more experienced 49.  [No records kept on the 2nd, my own {Brasenose's}.]  It's hard to make generalizations though.  AT4 had its first parts made back in October, had more work during February (NaMoPaiMo month) and then really took off in April.   Such clocked hours are very condensed and contain only tackmaking time at the bench.  It's fair to say I can only make tack for 2 hours a day these days; and even at that rate more than 3 consecutive days would be a delightful exception.

This is a good place to look at the black velvet shots.

I was actually well pleased with how this technique came out.  The ever-elusive colors were truthfully depicted.

I also tried a green background, which worked reasonably well.

When I finally girded myself to shoot, Friday the 4th, Shazada the perlino was first.  By coincidence this is our anniversary (33rd).  The stroll we took along Spring Creek miraculously gave me back large measures of my serenity and creative mojo.  I photographed Shazada, took him inside to switch AT4 to another horse --- and the cape jewel plate fell off.

Which made me feel probably like Morgen did when Wycked's head came off:*  So exasperated-exhausted that the mood was hilarity rather than rage or sorrow.  Thank god it happened now and not in Danielle's hands -- that's all I thought.  I had needed to make its sleeve larger;  this was my chance.  I forgot that that would make the cape ride higher by adding bulk, but I did it anyway.  I glued the plate back on with a minimum of fuss and on Saturday I tried shooting again.  Talisman/Altynai was indicated since that's the mold the customer asked for.  But I didn't want to use more than one horse beyond him.

I had great fun setting out Talisman in the front yard.  There is something goofy about the dry-desert Akhal Teke running around in deep lush grass...!

I was using the front steps because the sunset at the time made the back deck light very direct and unsuitable.  Here was where I'd shot Orlik when he was 1st finished.  Perhaps that was part of what urged me to choose him.  I idly picked him up -- he still is resonating with me, still on fire from the great triumph of NMPM.  His mane made wearing neckpieces problematic, but why not try the breastcollar?  That's what's new anyway...

To my amazement, the colors came through.

It always has been very hard to catch the colors of this set with the camera.  The aquamarines of AT4 are so milky light that any strong sun defeats me.  But it was the white bricks that set off the statuesque horse and his noble demeanor.  My god, what a storyline here,... exotic Arab markets, courtyards, dusky evenings in hot countries...

The iris blades could easily be something tropical.

His pose is so indicative of the spade bit horse:  highly trained, the property of a gentleman, of a noble.
This one is my favorite.

I am so grateful for so much understanding by friends of what has been a long, tough time; we are still healing.  This is one artist who will blunder through the pandemic on the patience of so many.  It's true there is always enough time to do the job right.  I feel I can start afresh.

 I am thinking of holding a raffle for the single neckpiece I have to offer during BreyerFest.  The stones can be any color the winner wants.  More details later, of course!

*During the Wycked Wynd coloring contest prize drawing, broadcast on FB, she picked up the first resincast of the stallion by his head and it snapped off in her hand.

Note from the future [June 7]:  The customer has requested a small change in the breastcollar, and since we always try to please the customer!!  the change has been made.  This is what the breastcollar looks like now:  all silver drops.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wycked Wynd Coloring Contest

The flood of coloring contests during the pandemic finally reached critical mass for me.   I had tried half-heartedly with one before, but with Morgen Kilbourn's Wycked Wynd I pulled out all the stops!  Having watched Morgen sculpting Wycked from the beginning, I had latched onto the resin -- something about him, perhaps his purity, was irresistible -- and when he was done I decided I wanted one.  The drawing was by Christine Jordan, and very inspiring it was.   It is with inexplicable shyness that I publish here first;  pandemic behaviour may manifest in strange ways.

[Ed note I just realized I've misspelt Wynd from the start.  Sorry, & tried to fix on the 30th!]

From the beginning my artist's vision centered around three choices for this drawing, which would be done in colored pencil.  I knew I wanted a golden bay with minimal white.  I wanted the border to not distract.  And most daring of all, I wanted to put tack on the horse -- not just drawing it on, but actually pasting on leather and silver and sinew --!!

Here is the one shot taken midway through, before the background and the reins were done.

I had once commissioned one of our great painters, Jenn Danza, to do a golden bay "so light you couldn't tell him from a buckskin."  (She accomplished this with superb skill.)  I now found out how hard that was!
I also found out how hard it was to do black with colored pencils.  My black pencil was down to a nub from some previous adventure.  I tried layering various purples, browns and dark blues; this had worked for NaMoPaiMo.  But it didn't quite work here.  In the end I resorted to black Edge Cote, an acrylic leather paint, to finalize the points.

"Colored pencil, marker, nail polish, Gesso, Edge Cote.  Bridle:  leather, nylon sinew, silver tape [aluminum tape], ikandis [metal iron-ons], thread."  And Elmer's.  The nail polish was the shell hoof.

 I felt oppressed by Wycked's border.  No offense to Christine intended!  but I felt it was a lot to ask.  It was distracting when my focus would be entirely on the horse and his bridle.  I was encouraged by one early entry who made their border all one neutral color.  I chose the light blue not only to compliment a golden bay, but to match the interweaves on the rein buttons.  (!)  It's not all solid light blue; the butterfly bodies have interweaves.  :)

This is my one previous try to enter a coloring contest:

I guess you can tell what I'm interested in.  :)

I have been impressed that so many other entrants to Wycked Wynd's contest were bays of some sort,... and of them, many had an off hind sock.  He just seems to look right in that color, though I'm prejudiced here.  I swear I chose my markings entirely independently!

Early on, a friend responded positively to my approach.  Surprising what a difference that makes!  This shot is of my old drafting circles template framing his head.  It shows the originally-designed reins.

Long ago in the dim beginnings of the world, (before I was married, in other words:  about 1981), I made a quilt block for a quilt for my grandparents' 50th anniversary celebration.  (My Mom is a quilter.)  I had just purchased a Florentine Five-Gaiter.  I made my block out of leather and tooled the horse on, then made a two-dimensional harness for it from lace and wire.  I'm dreadfully sorry I can't find a photo of this feat (believe me, I've tried!).  This is my only precedent for what I've done with Wycked Wynd's drawing.  I don't know an official term for it, so I'm calling it bas-relief tack.  

 I designed the bridle for the horse while I was still finalizing the decision to purchase him.  The coloring contest gave me a chance to play with it.   The attraction for a 2D, bas-relief version lay in simplifying it and hitting the sweet spot of looking good without defeating itself and being too detailed or hard to do.  But it was hard!!  The brow concho came first:  a simple circle of silver tape pressed with a leather stamp.  Encouraged, I put on the crown strap bits and started on the cheek medallion.   It was around then I started jettisoning details!  This was going to be tougher than I thought.

The rules said only 'minor alterations' to the drawing would be allowed.  I had to change the width of the eye a little to avoid conflict with the cheekstrap.  The challenge was to get the cheekstrap as far back as possible, yet still be realistic for the head.  As a tackmaker I have fought this battle a thousand times; it is a matter of fractions of a millimeter.

All along I'd known I wanted this bridle elegantly simple.  The horse must not be eclipsed by the tack.  It must enhance him, not overpower; invite, not offput.  No browband, no throatlatch, closed reins; it's hard to get simpler than that one swooping line: ears to mouth to withers. The bit was relatively easy -- more silver tape -- but the medallion took so much work I decided a very plain cheekstrap was called for.  All the leather is stitchmarked by hand.

The reins were last.  By this time I'd given up on things like rein connectors or a curb strap for the bas-relief version, and settled for just one button group on the reins.  Those buttons really are braided on, 9Part 4Bights in white with 3 rings of lightblue interweave.   Of course, for the one-ninth model version, all the details will return.

Now for the background.  At first I thought I'd draw in a horizon, with ocean and cliffs.  (Black Stallion, anybody?!)  But another precedent established itself.  Can you guess?

That's right:  the cover of the Guide.  Rainbow-like rays fading to white in the center.  I really am predictable.

A thousand thanks to Morgen and Christine and Shauna.   It was heavenly pleasure to be braiding again.  It was fabulous fun to combine tack with coloring!!  

I'll try not to wait so long next time.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Ahkal Teke Set 4 Progress


 Finally finishing AT4's cape and both neckpieces, I held a shoot with no less than 7 horses.  This is clear evidence of pent-up-ness!  AT4 has not been the fastest piece I've ever built.   There were too many obstacles ranged against it for a swift completion, and they ran the gamut from a bad arm to bad weather,... from volcano-watching addiction to plain old quarantine blues, and many others.  But yesterday things turned around.  I had to try out this fascinatingly-colored set on quite the range:  Two Perlinos, a palomino, a pearl gray, a golden bay, a liver chestnut and a pearl-black!   Be warned:  this is a long, photo-heavy post.

In every shoot there is at least one surprise picture.  In this one there were several.  Here is my favorite, the pearl gray:  Celestine, known as Palustris in my herd (after pinus palustris, the longleaf pine of the south).  Who'd've guessed she'd turn out looking so good!

She shows the colors of the gemstones the best.  This whole post is about trying to depict the jewel colors. You've heard it from me before:  It's really hard to shoot these sets!!
Here's Palustris from another angle, which shows the forehead.  I'm sorry the cape doesn't fit right; this is another tale of woe you'll hear about later. 
This set, Akhal Teke presentation set No. 4, is being made to fit an Altynai, who will be in the color of Breyer's Perlino.  That makes Shazada the model of choice for shooting it, as we saw last time:  Starting Akhal Teke set no 4.   Here he is showing off his beautiful color with the light blue aquamarines.

Each of these shots is processed separately, and thus they don't always match each other.  (Honestly, my house is not really that color.)  Here's Shazada, in whole body for reference:

And a close up of his portrait.  The colors of the stones range from light to darker and from greenish to blue. 

Very close up on this horse.  The 2-ply neckband (the top one) is made with aquamarines, the very smallest ones I had.  The 3-ply is made with sapphires, as I didn't have any aquamarines the right size.  (Larger ones will go for the breastcollar.)  Note how some sapphires are less blue than the aquamarines.

Here's a Bird's-Eye shot.  The cape jewel was lighter than most, and thus very hard to photograph.

Here we see it all on Marimba, my own resincast Perlino.  She was my NaMo horse for 2020.  The slightly smaller size was a challenge.

A close up of Marimba.  Despite the poor fitting, I like the colors on her.  Her slight reddish cast seems to bring out the blue.

Moving on to the centerpiece horse, Altynai / Talisman simply steals the show.  I put him in just the neckpieces at first.

The above was another of those surprise shots that came out far more striking than I had anticipated.  It needed no PhotoShopping in its colors.  However I was unable to resist cleaning up the horse!  I smoothed the ridged moldline on his face.

More Talisman posing in all his wild-eyed glory.  With a bit of darkening overall (the overcast was a help here), the jewel colors came out well.

Here's a shot taken only on this horse.  I wanted to depict the color of the central throat jewels, which don't show up in any other pose, (except laid out, below).

 Here is Altynai/Talisman in the full bridle, cape and neckpieces.  It's a shot made possible by the zoom feature of the camera.  Still washed out on the face but the neck is realistic.

He is larger than Lonesome Glory, but there is overlap, fortunately.
Another view from the offside.

If it weren't for Brasenose, I'd quit here, with this super portrait.  What a photogenic horse!  As it is we're using it for the frontispiece:

I could always fall back on the tried and true Laid Out on the Rail approach:

THAT shows everything!

But it's fun struggling with the horses.  Who's next?  How about a wild card!  Of course the neckpieces don't fit at all on a Saddlebred.  The cape or crown piece, made to be strung on the poll strap, really doesn't fit this larger throatlatch (viz., Palustris).  The cape is trying to fit over the poll buckle and can't do so; I may try to correct this.  But the view of the jewel colors is a pleasant discovery, especially when you remember how many Akhal Tekes will be in golden yellow.

The brother of Laird is, in my herd, Rafael.  Here unfortunately is a disappointing pairing.  No matter how I darkened, his black coat washed out the camera every time.  Still there is potential; in person he is lovely.

To end this undoubtedly indulgent shooting session, I present my original and still beloved Russian resincast Teke, Brasenose my NaMoPaiMo horse from 2018. 

How do these aquamarines look against a bronze liver chestnut?  Pretty good, I think.
Nearside view.  Yet another pleasant surprise.  The cape needs to be trained; until then, sticky wax is indicated.
I will finish with a Bird'sEye view on this horse.  In an attempt to show the cape jewel, I've left this shot unlightened, so he appears somewhat darker than before.  Dig those jewel colors on the neck!
We still have the breastcollar to go, but the end is in sight.