Sunday, July 28, 2013

NAN cookies: of a different color

 With the whole model world still ringing from BreyerFest, what do I choose to blog about?  North American Nationals!!  I have a unique cookie collection...

The shot above shows my living room in 2008, five years ago.  The NAN cookies are arrayed on the strip near the ceiling:  they are hung as high as they can get.  Thus the measure of how prized they are: nothing higher.  This picture was taken for my website back then, and while I did save the code, no one sees those pages once they're taken down.  On this blog I have the opportunity to go back and revisit a little history.
P.S. The carousel horse is fibreglass, still in primer, draped in a rainbow serape, with my Smucker's Harness bellstring on his rump.
(Above) This is what that strip looks like today, in 2013.   Added a few haven't we.

Back then, in 2008, was a particularly appropriate time to show them off, because I'd just received a very special plaque, second from right below.  And for the first time ever, one year had given me 3 cookies.  I found the wood strip and put up all my trophies in a fashion that would allow expansion.
Danielle Miller, bless her heart, had gone to the trouble of recognizing one of only two NAN Auction donators to have stuck with the whole enterprise from the start.  (The other was a jump maker, Polly Fields.)  The plaque says "For 10 years of NAN Auction Donations."  If truth be told, this is not strictly accurate.  What it should have said was "For 11 NAN Auction Donations spread over 14 years."  Truth is often messy.  Decades are neat.  But I'll take it in the spirit in which it was intended.  It was a fabulous honor and, so far as I know, unique.

My first donation was a pair of halters for the 1995 show.  They sold for $225 (!).  That same auction I bought Ghirardelli, who went on to win my first NAN cookie, the silver one on the left, with which my collection begins.  I think a future blogpost will deal with those 11 tack donations, as they are a story unto themselves.
I showed Ghir in harness.  I don't have a picture of his winning entry, but here is one of my favorite shots of him.
This is actually a photograph from way back.  The sleigh was originally a Dick Eighmey bobsleigh before I rebuilt the heck out of it and painted it red.  The harness (again, not what he showed in) is one of my famous Red Team pair, adapted to single.  The doll is buried under a robe I made from 3 ermine skins.  And Ghirardelli today is in England, waiting for the Utterly Horses Hullaballoo to give him another chance at life.  I don't want to surrender my cookie, but the horse needs someone who will work with him and show him.  I have a feeling my showing days are largely past.  However, I had great fun with this photo; notice the white streak on the sleigh front.  It was snowing.  :)
The greenish-turquoise cookie is for the volunteers of 1999.  Apologies for the out-of-focus; thanks to PhotoShop.  From here on, the cookies would be of this smaller size, and the volunteers' would be of various colors.  The next cookie, sculpted (again) by Minkiewicz, is painted gold on one side and purple on the other -- one of my favorites!  It's for 2001.   I was judging in those years.

 The next green one is dated 2004.  This is where the neat even-year odd-year sequence was broken, for 2003 was the "year without a NAN."  We all know Margaret Thompson absconded with the goodies.  What is less remembered but ten times more fun is that the "anti-NAN," which WAS held that year, included tack classes!!!  Yours truly gave a harness demonstration.  (Yeah, I've got a ways to go before I'll ever shine at public speaking.)  But the tack classes were incredible.  Both champions and reserves in the Western and parade classes were either TSII pieces or owned by me.

The 2004 gold cookie in this admittedly-out-of-focus shot is my one-and-only true National Championship.  It is the only time I ever personally won a NAN gold in competition.  It was for Stone Decorator Light Breed Limited Run, and my beloved Solis, a maple woodgrain Stone Arab (one of 10) took it.  The irrepressible Danielle Miller snagged a picture. 

In retrospect it all went by so fast.  This shot is misleading because it looks like the horse I'm holding won the prize.  My horses are married (they are characters in an endless story) and I'm holding the husband of the horse who won.  It's also possible that blue horse was competing too; I don't remember.  The winner is the woodgrain on the table, with what looks like white mane and tail, although it's actually a pearly light foam color.

The next cookie, the copper one, is 2006.  By now I was hoping I could get one of every shape cookie ever issued.  Since each mold was used for two years I had a decent fighting chance. 
Somewhere around 2007 (?) I let my friend Colette know about my ambitions to collect all the known NAN cookie molds.  In complete kindness, above and beyond any sort of reciprocity (this is typical of her), Colette dug up from her own boundless collection a couple of the 1994-1995 vintages, and GAVE them to me, even paying for shipping.  This was the Arab head sculpted by Sarah Minkiewicz.

It is not known who won these.  For this reason, the cookies are not mounted on ny wall strip, but kept on my bookshelves, below the buffalo conga line.  Find them in the lower left of this picture.

The black cookie, the first time I met with the tendency to paint the volunteers black, is 2008.  As told above, 2008 was the year I received the central plaque.  It's not exactly a cookie, but it certainly belongs in this collection.  The silver one is also a 2008 and marks yet another variation in my collection.  Although I didn't actually show the horse, I created the tack that was used to win this cookie.
I have Ann Bilon to thank for this gift.
Ann had ordered a TSII Parade set and gotten #428, "Bilon's Braided."  It was created back in 2005, which just shows you the time frame of some of the hobby's work!!   She qualified for NAN and showed in 2008 with an original finish horse in the Other Costume Light/Gaited Breeds class; it was a Stone Tennessee Walker I believe, a new mold at the time.  She named him "Buckeye Boy."  When it took silver she decided I should have the cookie; it was my work, as saddlemaker, that had won.  I could hardly say no.
And it was a similar set of circumstances which gave me the gold next to her silver.  The equally irrepressible Colette Robertson showed 2 TSII silver Parade saddles in 2010 and won Champ and Reserve with them.  She decided to give me the gold.  I meticulously took down the info and it's on the back of the cookie:  Custom Mounted Parade class, July 20 2010, Cat Dancing, TSII #442, known as Robertson's Medieval Vine.  This saddle was created especially for this person and has small motifs hidden in the tooling, such as a stethoscope and a syringe (she's a doctor).
 Yes, this picture was taken outdoors, up on a reclaimed strip mine in Central Pennsylvania.

The black 2012 cookie marks the first time I was neither a judge nor a steward, but something totally different:  the photographer!!  And at least for now, I feel I've found my niche.  How wonderful that I can be useful and happy in a necessary role that uses an artist's skills, but doesn't involve the stress of judging.  The only problem is that black is just not my favorite cookie color.  It adds nothing to my trophy strip.

Niki must have heard me.  The red one, 2013, is truly fantastic, and gives my strip the eye-popping  color it deserves.  Only one question remains:  What color will the volunteers get next?  Looking over my entire collection, all 17 years of it, what color is missing?  Blue?  Purple?  Orange?  Pink? 
Believe me, there's room for more.
Long live NAN!

Friday, July 5, 2013

How the Timaru Star II got its name

On a recent trip to Boulder, Colorado to see my parents, Mom dug up some old slides, and we all gathered round for a trip down memory lane.  I've been meaning to blog about this story for years, and now's my chance!

What you're looking at in the background is the famous Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco.  No mystery there -- standard tourist fare.  Ah but the YEAR... is 1973!!!  The woman on the right is Jeanne Bensema, and her daughter is thirteen-year-old Susie Bensema, already smitten with things of the sea, and of the imagination.

What were Boulderites doing in San Francisco?  My father, Bill Bensema, had been invited to WesCon -- an early convention for electronics and electrical engineers.  In his inimitable way he turned it into a family vacation; however, only one child came along.  Two others, a younger sister and still younger brother, had to stay behind in Boulder.

We stayed at the Beresford Hotel.  I can still remember the red carpet everywhere.  There was a tiny restaurant next door called the White Horse.  Since I was horsemad this was a brilliant stroke of serendipity.

We went to Chinatown.  This was my first experience with a big city that wasn't Denver.  It was at this time I learned to eat with chopsticks.
Clearly most of the pictures (usually slides back then) were taken by Dad.  However this one is of Dad, so it must have been taken by my mother.

This man is not Dad, but Reverend Bob Stewart, a friend of the family we dropped in on.  Actually he was the man who married Mom and Dad, so in a very real way, if it weren't for him I wouldn't be around!
Don't you love those old fashioned cars...
We went to the beach, of course.  For Coloradans, anything to do with the sea was quite romantic.  Dad had always had a sailing streak in him.  I think it was that which led us down to saunter along the marinas and docks.

I don't recall anything particular about which park this was.  I do remember a whaling ship museum aboard an old wooden whaler named the Balclutha.  Alas, the above wooden ship is not that one.  We wandered along the docks, spellbound all three...
...and what should we stumble upon but a cargo ship in the very act of unloading!
We wandered closer and watched.
If he's interested, Dad can strike up a conversation with anyone.  I'm not sure how it happened, but he started talking with the crew, and we found out this ship was the very one which had carried our good friends and neighbors, the Walter Jones family (Walter, Carlie, Connie, Shannon and Scott) and their goods, to Christchurch New Zealand earlier that year.  That was certainly enough to capture our attention!  Connie had been my best friend before 6th grade.

I was swept away by the romance of ships.  To be able to sail anywhere in the world... free upon the high seas...  safe...  to be doing good for others...

More than twenty years later I would find out that the White Star line named all its ships with a city name followed by the word 'star.'  Sister ships to this one included the Perth Star.  The city of Timaru is on the south side of South Island, New Zealand.  The name itself (again, it took me more than 20 years to find this out) is a Maori (Polynesian) place name for the harbor there.  Te Maru means 'safe harbor,' indicating that was the only safe place to land along the coast.

 This particular slide caused my spine to chill up, because it proves Dad was actually walking on board the Timaru Star.  I have only the dimmest memory of walking on her myself, but this slide means it actually happened.
We wandered all over that day, peering into the warehouse and looking at the boats.  I don't remember much about the rest of that trip, but the die was cast.  This simple dockside encounter would start something that lasted far longer than anyone could imagine.

Sometime in the next year, influenced by a couple of other events --reading a book called "The Great Ice Ship Bear" and playing a game called When My Ship Comes In with my new best friend Gretchen Lockwood (I met her when we were both 14) -- I settled in my mind what MY ship would be like when it came in.  It would be magical, an icebreaker.  (Icebreakers took on a symbolic meaning for me: one who could conquer problems, pioneer a way through.)  It could sail anywhere; it had a model horse stable and tack shop in the hold; and it would be named after the Timaru Star.  I added a "II" or "the second" to distinguish my ship from the original real one I had seen that day in 1973.  Much later, when the time came to actually launch my model tack shop as a mail order business -- in 1979 -- I remembered that magical ship.  I wrote short stories about her, and one of them was published in Just About Horses in 1983.
But that's another story.

And so was born the TSII.  No one could have foreseen that a schoolchild's imagination would last longer than an iron cargo ship.  The Timaru Star was scrapped in the mid-1980s.  Just about the time my tackshop was getting off the ground.  (I like to think her spirit passed into it.)  To my surprise, a second Timaru Star was built in the 2000s, and it is sailing today -- a supertanker based out of Hong Kong.  Why did they keep the name alive?  I have no idea, we don't know for sure... but I like to think my little tack shop had something to do with it.. a subliminal influence, perhaps.  By then the Web was up and running, and my ideas and use of the name would appear in any search engine.

Who can say.  One thing's for sure.  I will always love ships and sailing, always have a romance with the sea, and always respect the power of imagination.

Dreams can come true.