Thursday, December 17, 2015

Braidwork by Jacquee Gillespie

 When I was at Region X Regionals last month I had the privilege of judging an extraordinary entry.  I later sought permission from its owner to share pictures of it on this blog.  Not only did she give me permission, she sent me a couple more shots!  Thank you, Beth.

Naturally, a judge sees the best.  It takes quite a horse (and tack) to really seize my heart and hold my attention.  In truth, I must confess, I have seen this horse before, and photographed her before.  Two years earlier, I had taken these at NAN 2013, in Pennsylvania:
This is, of course, Victrix, sculpted by Carol Williams of Rio Rondo, and painted by Chris Flint.  Beth calls her Suicide Blonde.
It was seeing this model, I am convinced, that influenced me in my purchase of an unfinished Victrix at BreyerFest later that year.  Me, a Westerner!  Me, who doesn't do English... Me, who barely does sculpting, but  I kept having visions of doing a continental braid on her!  Me, who has too many unfinisheds as it is...  who usually can afford only one big-ticket item... OK, this is getting beside the point, but look at this face:
So when I saw her again at Regionals, there was an added layer of familiarity.
That was before I closed in on the gear.
Lord save us, it had to be by Jacquee Gillespie.  The Beautiful Horses braider.
(Nice pun for Chris Flint.  [beau cheveaux = beautiful horses])

Close ups of this amazing set:
The romal:
The hobbles.  Braided and rolled lace (I know the look of that material) with thread buttons, braided just like the full scale version.
Beth later told me the saddle was an Evelyn Munday, the doll was by Darla Curtis, and the saddle pad was from Corinne Ensor of Maryland.
Way to go.  The eye that put this ensemble together knew what it was doing! 
Jacquee has a FaceBook page: Beautiful-Horses-the-horsehair-braider
and a website:

At this point I have to back up a little.  My knowledge of the fantastic artistry of Jacquee Gillespie began with a dimly glimpsed display case at Artisan's Gallery, during BreyerFest 2008.  I was still using my old 35mm Nikon camera (it would not be retired until 2010).  I struggled to shoot through the crowds, in relative darkness, some of the most amazing scale-model Western braidwork I had ever seen.
 It looked just like the real thing: animal fibres, shreddy edges, beautiful braided buttons, real rawhide, actual horsehair!  (I am digitizing the photographs here.)
And the hardware!  It was clear she'd made her own buckles and bits.
Yikes!!  Real horsehair use in model tack is quite rare.  Up to this point I'd known it only from the likes of Juliane Garstka in Germany.
This girl clearly knew her stuff.  I had that old drop-to-my-knees feeling:  I had encountered the Real Thing, that which the rest of us merely make models of.
Although I'm ashamed of it today, I thought her prices too high.  I struggled whether to snag one of the mecates.  In hindsight I really should've.  Jacquee's work is very rare and hard to get hold of.  I later asked Beth how long it had taken her to get the Blonde's bridle.  "Oh, about 2 years!"

I found that Jacquee lived in New Mexico and made braided-horsehair mementos for people who had lost their mounts, from the horse's hair.  She was a jeweller -- that explained the silver bits and buckles, and the beautifully-scaled and crafted rein chains.  She owned dogs and alpacas -- that explained the fibrous mecates.   I experienced what has since become a common feeling:  surprise that an outsider could do so well, in this, my own closely-guarded and manifestly difficult field of expertise.
I usually have two mental paths to follow when this happens:  I can try to impress them with my own superior work (making them admit I'm better)(beat), or I can try to collect their work, learn more about it, admiring, and hope they'll admit my work has merit (join).  In the majority of cases I have chosen join.  The deciding factor appears to be so deeply buried I can barely detect it, but it has to do with 'liking' or identifying with the artist.  (Read C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength for a look at this phenomenon: Why did Jane 'like' the Dimbles?)
Of course, this leaves me right back down with everybody else:  How to obtain these delicious pieces?!  The thrill of the hunt...  In the meantime I take pictures...

At the Regionals, Beth had more tack on her table, and graciously let me photograph it.  (This time I've got my digital Fuji.)
One's hands can almost feel the coarse horsehair mecate reins.
This is a good look at the curbstrap (above).  The bits and buckles aren't just handmade; they're made with the unifying eye of a professional artist.  They match, in other words, and express an Art Deco influence.  It is her style.  At this level of skill, style is the main thing separating and distinguishing artists.
The bosal core is made from horsehair.  I've seen real horsehair bosals... in Mexico! 
This piece has more detail than many a full scale cousin.  Oh, I wish, I wish...

Here is the last view from Beth.  This would be the 'dos reindas' (two reins) phase of the horse's training, wearing both hackamore and bridle.  The same artistic style ensured they fit together.  The camera, alas, distorts the ears.
 I'm going for a close up:

Thanks again: to Beth for her generosity in sharing this gem, to Jacquee for making such quality pieces, and to the crew at RXR for putting up with my judging.  I'm inspired.

Notes from the future:  Starting in January I hope to pursue work on pdf-ing the Guide (this is NOT a curse) and starting my last Lottery silver saddle, the Star Wars set.  I also hope to start making smaller pieces and auctioning them.  It is my intention to make small donations to NAMHSA, spread throughout the year.  The 'grandfathers' (standing orders) will have to wait a while longer.  For more details, see our Tack Orders page of the TSII website:
Tack Orders

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Starting: the Horn

This chapter is all about making the horn for TSII #455, Miller's TriColor silver Parade Saddle.  We have done Western saddle horns using this method since the beginning of my tackmaking career.   Depending on how you count it, that makes 36 years (since 1979, when the TSII started taking orders) or 41 years (since circa 1974, when I actually started making tack).  Either way, that's a lot of horns... over four hundred and fifty!!  Some used thread, some used sinew, and some (like #455) used silver lacing, but they all were made basically the same way.

This post is also about just plain starting.  I find it quite difficult to begin a big piece.  How to get through the initial logjam?  Where do I begin?  Dividing and conquering just makes more logjams...  Over time I have evolved a habit-pattern:  much of the time I do start a saddle with the horn.   (Since I build mostly Western saddles, horns are taken for granted.)  I think of it as equivalent to starting painting a horse by doing his nose.
I imagine a flat plane, or sheet, of intent, sweeping through the saddle.  It starts at the horn and finishes with the back skirts, or the crupper if it's a parade set.  If the project were a horse it would finish with the tip of his tail.  There is a slight downwards motion to this imaginary plane:  it's gotta touch the fenders and stirrups, sweeping down through them, and then leap up (stretch or extend) and finish off with the rear.  It's the same idea as painting one's way down the legs and ending up at the hooves.  The tail is still last.  The order of being touched by this plane, then, is the order I do the pieces in.  It's one way to get started.
There really is the feel of a 'nose' or 'muzzle' about the Western saddle horn.  It's a handy knob to grab hold of when you're picking it up--- just like the head of a model horse.

Above is the start of the start.  That blue paper pattern was made from some random scrap of construction paper during my college years (early 80s) - and it's still in use today (2015)!  Since my shears can't cut so tiny a turn, I use the hole punch and the X-Acto.  The hole punch has the benefit of making that angle nice and smooth.

After dyeing the leather, the next step is hand-skiving the horn.  The slanted edge must be feathered thin; it will form a wrapped edge later on and should have no bulk.  The rest of the horn piece is left reasonably thick, although the inner edge is skived some.
A sidewise view, edge on, of the horn piece after skiving:
Very early in my career, I bought a little star stamp from Tandy's and started stamping the horns of my saddles with it.  It was in honor of the "Star" in my tack shop's name (see How the Timaru Star II got its name).  And ever since, every single Western saddle I've ever made has got that little star right in its horn.  By now there are layers of "wish upon a star" and of just plain time-honored history in that stamped mark.  It might be covered by a horn cap (in fact frequently is!) but the star is always there.
Here also I am slitting the rim of the horn for the braided-silver binding.  The tool is a needle chisel, homebuilt.
Making slits for edge-braiding is a separate skill.  The slits can't be too big or small, nor too far from the edge.  They should be spaced so the braiding lies evenly.  A rule of thumb is to use a slit just as wide as the lacing.  With Galaxy lacing (below) more skill is needed to cut the lacing to just the width of the needle chisel!
The next step is to make the horn core or frame.  I use 20 gauge galvanized steel wire.  The horn is about the last place left in my saddles to use galvanized instead of stainless, because it will be unseen (and any corrosion won't affect things).  Practice will be needed to shape the horn core: rounding the rim, paralleling the neck.
 Galaxy is a brand name of silver mylar belt lacing, available at Tandy's.  It was Cheryl Abelson, a miniatures dealer and amateur tackmaker in the early 80s, who first let me in on its use for model tack.  You have to peel open the full-scale stuff and pull out the fibrous filling.  You will be left with a thin flexible outer shell, whitish on the inside and silver on the outside (shown second from right).  You then have to cut the shell into strips.
Silver Galaxy lace solved many problems for me.  It didn't tarnish, was perfectly in scale, wasn't expensive or hard to get, looked great and could be cut to any size needed.  It was flexible but strong and took wear well.  It aged OK.  But one did need endless patience and skill to cut and trim a long enough strip for lacing.  If the strip was cut too thin, the stresses of lacing would cause it to curl there and then delaminate -- coming apart right in the middle of things!  I hated that curl!!  It was better to use two pieces, and somehow hide the ends, than to have your lace curl up and break...
The back of the Galaxy lace shell is marked in a sort of checkerboard of tiny squares.  The right width for #455's horn, and most Trad jobs, is just one square wide.
Another interesting thing about using Galaxy lace is I never need a needle.  I lace my silver without one.  It's useful to have a fid (a pointed tool) of course; my needle awl does that job.  But Galaxy is too thick to thread on a needle and would break under the forces involved.  So I cut a point on one end, open the slits and feed the end through by hand.
While it is not the place of this post to explain how to edge-braid, I can tell you that TSII #455 used Spanish Edge Lacing of 2 loops, as do most of my silver horns.  The braiding binds the horn core to the leather and gives it shape and strength.  The trick to most braiding is to keep an even tension or pull throughout the piece.
Rounding the horn (as it were) is another skill best picked up by practice.
At this point, ends tucked in and braiding finished, I roll up the leather around the wire and tie it with more wire (galvanized, 24 ga.).   It's tricky tightening this wire without breaking it, but nothing else is strong enough to hold the leather closed.  Position this closing wire below the surface of the pommel or shoulders, but not so far down as to stick out into the gullet.  Nip off the unused wire ends and bend the twist smooth.
Putting on the horn cap:  in the case of #455, a simple hot-ironed hex concho.  Tricky to preserve the doming (the arch to the concho); I used the corner of the stamping block, underneath, during ironing.
 At this point I sliced off the lower part of the horn neck, trusting to the wire twist-tie to hold things together.
And the final step:  creating the pommel.  This process was covered in another blog post.
And there you have it -- a big chapter in how we make Western saddles.  Hopefully some help in busting those logjams of creativity!  And more insight into the creation of TSII #455, as of this writing so soon to be finished.  I look forward to my next projects:  a short order hatband, more work on the Guide, and then a Star Wars-themed silver saddle!
Life is never boring.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Intermediaire/INTERSPORT 2015

October 11 was Didi Hornberger's umpteenth Intermediaire show.  As photograher,  I took over a thousand photos.  This post shows just 54 of them:  five percent.  I'll start with the floral centerpiece.  The black horse is intriguing.  Not a resin, he is a trophy from a tack shop; he is nearly 1/6th scale and amazingly correct and detailed.

Most model shows follow a predictable trajectory:  performance classes first, halter second.  But when you've got 2 shows going in tandem, many things are happening at once, and my own preferences emerge.  For someone who's not a chinahead, I certainly love the look of the clinkies, equus fragilis.
Dozen Roses, sculpted by Kathy Bogucki:
Unfortunately I missed most of the harness classes.  I did catch these:
 Apparently Stone's Bogucki Ringo Saddlebred is the mold to show in fine harness!
This splendid cantering grey caught my eye.  We shall see him again later!
One of the ways in which Didi manages her pair of shows is to use different colored tablecloths (actually plastic) for the different divisions.  There are 6 colors altogether.  It's such an elegantly simple idea.  But it makes for overwhelming, solid-color backgrounds to the shots.
A startling use of the new Wyatt mold, by Morgen Kilbourn, is this Civil War entry.
I was so intrigued I shot it from 3 different angles.  In complex performance entries there is sometimes no way to capture it with a single shot.  The card below shows the inspiration painting.
It's rare, and beautiful, for a painting rather than a photo to be the inspiration.  This entry was owned by Kris Gallagher, who also did the dolls.
In central Pennsylvania one can count on performance entries by Kim Jacobs.
Yes, that is a big horse!  Fragilis to boot.
Only second place?!?  Wait til you see first place!  Again a china, this horse is rearing above the tiny china snake almost underfoot.
Kim's costumes often feature strong colors, metallicism and flash.  Her documentation and research is famous for being in-depth, exotic and thorough.
It appears, at least this year, that another of her specialties is large horses.
I'm pretty sure this white drafter is 1/6th, Johnny West size, the size of the Luis Aguilar Nohuanda horses; I have one myself.
And here are all the ladies, deep in performance.  I was proud of this shot and hope I can be forgiven for any inelegance.
Left to right:  Kim Bleeker, Rachel Stacey, Kim Jacobs, Marcella Peyre-Ferry and Margaret (Peggy) Suchow.  In the left background, blue check shirt, Didi herself.  I'm sorry I don't know the purple girl.

The next shot is a sort of two-fer in that you can catch a glimpse of a parade entry behind the cantering Arab.  The chestnut belongs to Kim Jacobs, I think.
One more before we leave Kim Jacobs.  I seem to be a pushover on the subject of gold tack.  This is another outsize horse.  The scale offers an opportunity which she has seized with both hands.
As a transition to halter (there will be more performance later), I want to share a couple of really outstanding dolls and their horses.  This Matriarch (by C. Williams) appears etched in a totally realistic way.  Yet she is actually hand pencilled, by Baker Yellot (thanks Kris!).  The doll is by Kris Gallagher.
But it was this doll that stole my heart.  Never mind that I'm Western.  Her expression says it all.
On to halter!  I have loved Knut, the Francis Fjord china, since he came out.
It is amazing what can be captured with the china glazing process.
This horse caught my eye because I am a frequent reader of Karen Gerhardt's FaceBook.  Surely this is the dapple grey she was working on earlier this year?
I recognize those dapples -- !  And now I confess to one of the most intriguing patterns to come out of my show photography.  An at-large photographer is free to shoot at any time, and I often shoot a class before it is judged.  In the process I develop favorites (was that a pun!?).  It is exciting to come back later and see that the judge followed my thinking!  Digital cameras make it easy to blaze away, and some of my 1043 pix were duplicates, before and after judging.  In this case the ribbon shot can be paired with the before shot because the angle was so different.
I do love looking at the clinkies.
Another wonder of shows (and of being photographer) is being able to see new models, horses you didn't know existed.  When I first spotted this continental-maned stander I thought he was some kind of weird remake.  And then I didn't know what to think!  Plastic continental manes are exceedingly rare.  Laredo is the only one I can think of who remotely qualifies, and he's only got 3 diamonds.
It wasn't until I saw a second stander that the mystery was solved.
There was a third color.  But my preference is for the first bright chestnut.
These two girls are (left) Tiffany Tran and (right) Beth Dickinson.  Tiffany is a bona fide chinahead.
Here is a Stone I unashamedly fell in love with.  At least once a show I find a horse that I actually allow myself to want.  It's kind of a surprise; after a day of staring at every sort of HSO [horse shaped object], to think that one could still stir me this way is nothing short of miraculous.  But when I saw him I said I'd never seen a color on this mold that moved me until now.
His owner, Marcella Peyre-Ferry, told me he's a regular run!  Brazenly I'll use this blog to state that if anyone wants to trade, I'd offer a mecate, bosal or reins for one like this...
Another rather famous Stone:
He appears on the cover of Keri Okie's book, Stone Base: The Decade Book.
I'm including this Stone Mule because he certainly is a new model for me.  Stretching the bounds of what is possible with factory customizations!
Speaking of new models, here is another famous one, but for a different reason.
This is Kristian Beverley's Copperfox Connemara.  I think I got other shots of him:
Yes.  What to do with a dog collection!
The at-large photographer got lucky with one of the most heartwarming moments of the entire show.
 I like portraits.  Close ups are one of the tricks I have evolved in my career as a show photographer.
I told you there was going to be more performance!   Note that this rider is jumping in sidesaddle.
This one introduces a new tackmaker, Tia Buser.  She explained to me the familiar tale:  she couldn't afford high quality tack, so she made her own.
I'm impressed.
Both saddle and bridle are her work.
I am not sure who made the outfit for this Vertical Limit; it may have been Cristina Brown.  I was struck by the navy-blue accents: bell boots, saddle seat, fly bonnet.  I'm pretty sure this horse took first.
I was so pleased with this dark bay resincast I took many pictures of him.  I found out later he is Windfall by Sommer Prosser, painted by Kathy McKenzie.
Obviously the judge liked him too.
This turns out to be a Corinne Ensor bridle.  The saddle is by Hannah Arnold, a new tackmaker out of Iowa.  The doll is by Kris Gallagher.
Only model horse people could understand a shot like this...  so thank you for understanding!
Yet more models I had never seen before.  At first I thought this beauty was a one-of-a-kind customization, but later I saw others like it in different colors.
Those mane and tail ribbons are not cloth, although they truly look like it.  It's metallic-painted resin.  The expressiveness of the great PRE eye!
And now for something truly funny.  This is purely personal, you must understand.  Explaining this, I have to go back a far ways, so:  all my life I have worshipped and honored the Decorators.  They are highly desirable to me, worthy of great care in handling, and possessing that special quality of great value shared only by those in the know.  To the outside world they might resemble a coffeepot (that is what my non-horsey sister actually said once, about a Copenhagen).  But to the insider hobbyist, they are worth hundreds of dollars.
And more.  This hobby almost exclusively involves girls.  What few guys you see are either artist types or company managers, or sometimes fathers; occasionally a long-suffering boyfriend.  I'm from a generation where guys were never interested in model horses, wore suits and carried briefcases, and where a tattoo was as foreign as Mars.

So when I saw this, I fell all over myself trying to photo it.
A heavily tattooed guy carrying two Decorators!!!!!!!!    !!!!!!!!!!!!!
I'm sorry I don't know your name, sir.  I hope you enjoyed the show....

The standard in performance entries was phenomenal at Intersport.  (Intersport is the "open" show; Intermediaire is for somewhat less competitive sorts, and has classes like Stable Blanket.)  I was drawn to these two almost-perfect Saddleseat entries.
The blue ribbon went to the red-lined coat.  I pointed out her hatbrim was in her eyes, but to no avail. The bay took third.  I decided I liked red-coat anyway.  Her expression was perfect.
To finish this review, take a peek at one of the more wild and unusual fringes on the edge of our hobby.  This creature was sculpted by Lauren Skillern, painted by Liz Bouras and is owned by Rachel Stacey.
Thank you, Didi, for another fabulous fall show!!