Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sleigh Pix

It's the time of year when I like to trot out a model sleigh picture and let it stand over the holidays.  I thought I needed some new ones, but I never dreamed of the riches I would get when we went to a nearby lake today!  This post will really be two posts (all the better for the weeks to come):  a review of my old sleigh pictures, and a glorious show of what I got this afternoon.   The alternate title for the second half is How to Sleigh Without Snow.

 One of my oldest and certainly one of my favorite sleigh pictures is this one of Ghirardelli.
The horse was a Galbreath resincast, somewhat customized.  He was my first horse that I took to a NAN Championship -- one of three ever, and one of two in harness.  (The third was collectibility.)  I was insanely proud of catching the falling snow in these two shots.  See those white streaks, on the sleigh and (below) pony?  These were taken in our front yard and, needless to say, that is really snow.
I sold him;  today Ghirardelli resides in Scotland.
Then there is this one, which must have prompted the "Driven a FJORD Lately?" bumper sticker on the back of the sleigh...!  The pony is an Amarna (Liz Bouras) resincast.  I was a little ashamed I hadn't thought to make tracks in the snow, for passage of horse and vehicle.  At least it was still snowing!

The earliest sleigh shot I can find is this one, from 2000.  There was an even earlier one, from 1998, showing a bay pinto Moody Infinity pulling this sleigh (which I remember very well, and have the index thumbnail of), but my filing system has failed me and I can't locate the photograph.  I found this one instead, surprising me because I'd forgotten about him.  This horse happens to be Chris Nandell's Jorrit Friesian.  (I named him Foucault.  He's such a swingin' guy!)  I digitized and signed the photo.  All these images up to the Ghirardelli pictures were originally photographs.
In the same batch was this one.  I know he's not pulling a sleigh, but I used this photograph as my Christmas card that year (2000).  I thought he looked Christmas-y with those red, green & gold mane bobs, and the red stripes on the cart (by Dave Blenkey).

The Friesian shows what I've used in show rings and other places where I didn't have real snow:  a piece of fleece.  It shows best in his shot.  Now we come to a more humorous set-up:  I had purchased a Santa and some accoutrements, thinking to make a real Christmas scene.  This was shot in the same front yard.  Alas, too much work needed to be done on Mr Claus; in the way of over-ambitious projects, he has remained his primitive, mantel-intended self:
Supporting the 2006, the Joker horse was that year's BFest horse.  I was very proud of the idea of having Santa delivering such a dream to a lucky child.  (And that tack!  it's the Red Zebra hackamore, which wound up with K. Cabot.)  Clearly we didn't have real snow... the fleece is trying to serve, but the effect is less.  Also clearly, though you could not know, is that this shot represents the entry of digital cameras into my life.  2006 was when we bought our first one;  I still use it for NAN.  I used the 35mm film camera up through 2010; that year of such great changes in my life saw camera use change too.
Four shoeboxes of photographs document 33 years of my model life, from 1978 to 2010.
The stag has had his antlers slightly remade by me, bent upwards.

The sleigh was originally a Dick Eighmey Bobsleigh in green and yellow.  Somewhere in the mid-1990s I customized it heavily, adding shafts and a prow, painting it red, pinstriping it, upholstering, adding little gold griffin-heads, bumper stickers, extra bracing, railings and a whip socket etc.  I boasted its own mother wouldn't recognize it.  After 20+ years, the shafts have broken.  They were designed to be detachable, but unfastening them is a fiddly process and puts stress on the very joints that broke.  I would love the time to sit down and fix my vehicles...

For more than 10 years I did not take any new sleigh pictures.  And then came this:
Nominally I was showing off the base of the horse, which I'd just completed.  But in my heart it was obviously a continuation of the old pattern of Christmas sleigh shots.  :)
Here's one from the other side.  Incongruous with tropical greenery, perhaps it is a winter garden?
The harness here is the same one as was on old Ghirardelli back in 2006.  This, the Red Team Harness, is the oldest element in all these pictures.  It was built in the early 90s and it was originally made on a research ship in the Pacific... but that's another story...

So now we come to today, December 9, 2018.  I wanted to do another sleigh shot. There wasn't much snow - in fact there wasn't any.  I scrambled around throwing fleece, Santa, toys, assorted dolls and a couple of deer models into a box.  It was below freezing outside and had been for days.  Our goal for a hike was Colyer Lake, a little agricultural lake just southeast of State College.
We have never canoed Colyer, despite its being the closest paddle-able body of water to our house.  For about 10 years it's been closed;  the dam was undergoing repair (yes, that's how long it took.  bureaucracy + recession = forever).  Now that it's fixed, Geo complains of no facilities; and it's true; this is a very primitive little spot. 
 When we got there my ideas underwent an enormous and instant change.

Santa, other dolls, fleece, toys and trinkets never left the box.  Instead I stepped out onto the ice.  Near the shore it held my weight.  The temperature was 27.  I lay down on the cold gravel bank and tried to get my head as low as possible.
I have named this horse Bitumina.  If I'm rested I can put a tilda ~ onto that n:  Bituminya.  It was George who suggested coal for my pair of Namids; the other one, a glossy, rejoices as "Anthracite."  :)
During the shoot, some onlookers came by; one said, "I'm Not Gonna Even Ask!"  in a tone which tells you really he's dying to ask.  My retort was "They're easy to train," not too bad for the spur of the moment.  They turned out to be friends, a rare enough happening.

I was having so much fun.  I turned right along the bank.  There is a haunting quality to this shot which I think has to do with looking down from above and its having no horizon.
This is one of my favorites.  Residents of central Pennsylvania will know the collection of post stumps is a fish nursery.  Everyone else gets to imagine it as the remains of some fancy long-gone dock.
I had chosen this horse for her head angle (originally thought about her looking at Santa Claus).  Here, I tried a moose.  The reeds could be large rushes.  However, the idea didn't quite work; proportion is, indeed, everything.

A word on Steve's famous ermine cloak.  This lovely artifact was made when I still lived in Colorado, pre-1988.  (Woops, just realized the cloak is the oldest element, not the harness.)  Tandy's in Greeley had a sale on ermines and I picked some up.  The cloak makes for some lovely winter model scenes, but I tremble at how Steve still doesn't have any gloves.

Cold temperatures do not seem to stop him.  Bitumina is looking with great interest at the other side of the lake.
Yes, it is frozen all the way across.  Yes, it could probably hold their weight.

Yes, have a wonderful holiday, guys.

See you later...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hunt Pack at Penn National

Once a year I get to see Penn National, and this time I chose Hunt Night.  The hound pack demo was so interesting!  It wasn't just dogs; I saw some unusual bridles.  Out of all the classes on Hunt Night (October 12), this post will cover just one demonstration!  Fellow blogger Jennifer Buxton has recently posted about an unusual bridle, so I thought I'd trot out a few that I had simply never seen before.

My very generous friend Didi Hornberger made it possible for me to visit Penn National Horse Show this past October.  When I saw there was going to be a pack of foxhounds right in the arena, I took my camera.  The first shot shows how hard a time I had focusing.  (Warning:  some out-of-focus shots coming!)  It also shows one of the strangest hunting get-ups I've ever witnessed.
Strange... but not unknown.  I've read about such.  This old lady, I thought, simply didn't want bits OR hackamores, and had found a way to control her horse that was neither.  I think it's a jaw strap; it fastens around the lower jaw.  Why not, if it works?

When the dogs poured into the arena it wasn't quite bedlam.
Four riders, uncounted hounds and one man afoot provided reasonable control of the situation.  Still I was riveted.  I'm going to try to include a video later -- it's the only way you'll hear the bells as well as the dogs.  The head huntsman's horse wore sleighbells as a signal to the pack.

The pack took several tours of the arena, coursing around the outside of the jumps.  Quite exciting and I didn't focus all too well, but maybe that just proves the fun!

For a few moments, the yelping and the halloo-ing took you to the fields and woods.  It seemed the most natural thing in the world:  dogs and horses together.
Here at last my focus behaved, and I caught a good shot.
Bringing the hounds back to the exit gate.
When the riders were standing around at the exit, which was to my right, I really saw the bridles.  Every horse who wore a bit had the largest snaffle rings I've ever seen in my life.
Even the sidesaddle rider has them!  We are talking 10+ inches here.  
 That's a big cookie!  That's ... tortilla size!  That's... Pizza size!
I was so surprised.  To find such things in company with the jaw strap was a true astonishment.

Finally I got the bitless rider in focus.  This is the only shot worth a close-up.  I'm hoping those ears aren't really annoyed, just in motion.
For the second time ever (the first was Rinker) I'll try and post a movie.  It's 14.2MB.  The horses and dogs trot happily around the arena.  I can't preview this so can only hope it works...!
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Penn National's Hunt Night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Saddles of Kathleen Bond

This post covers both model and full scale Western saddles built by the talented Kathleen Bond.  I have long wanted to present my Bond collection;  and recently I was fortunate enough to receive photos of yet another of her fantastic fully-tooled real Western saddles.  Bond.  Kathleen Bond!!

I first encountered Kathleen Bond in the early 1990s in the flyers of Hartland Collectables.  She had made their saddles and tack.  At the time only Breyer had sold mass-produced saddles to go with their model horses, so another company's efforts were very intriguing.  Hartland's tack offerings were quite beautiful, densely tooled and nicely detailed compared to Breyer's.  They were more expensive, but it was the incredible detail of the tooling that really set them apart.  These saddles, mass-produced though they obviously were, all had the stamp of quality about them... the unifying vision of a single artist.

I never did manage to purchase any Hartland tack directly, but a few years later I was starting my own Kathleen Bond saddle collection.  Note that none of these blankets were hers (they were all supplied by me later).  I never collected bridles by her.
I currently have eight of these distinct miniature masterpieces.  Six were purchased directly from Kathleen.  She told me she'd rather be called Kathleen (not Kathy).  She was located in central Ohio and made a living selling leather carved purses, belts, wallets, small leather goods ... real saddles ... and model saddles of her own manufacture.   There must be thousands of Bond model saddles out there.  You can always tell a Bond by the flat rivets for conchos, the thin white felt lining, the large girth-buckles, the overall wide-back shape, the tubular eyelet stirrup-necks and the details of the tooling.

Having been in the model horse hobby for 39 years, I forgive myself if I get Carol Howard and Kathleen Bond a little mixed up.  They were of similar age and both were very talented artists.  Both made model horse tack over a long period of time.  Both of these women never made it over the digital divide; they belonged to the mail order years.  I met and spoke with both of them.  And yeah, my memory tells me they looked kind of alike: both were heavy, dark haired and dark eyed.

Carol Howard lived in Arizona and made every kind of model tack:  English, Western, Silver Parade, Peruvian, Harness, Sidesaddle and more.  She made all her own bits from wire and solder and supplied other model tackmakers with them for many years.  She designed and drew carousel horse pictures and published them in Carousel News & Trader.  Carol sculpted model horses; Kathleen did not (that I know of).  Carol did not, so far as I know, make belts or purses, let alone full scale saddles.  Carol rarely travelled and I believe she stayed in Sierra Vista until she died (2018).

Kathleen Bond made only one kind of model tack:  Western Saddles.  She made them with great attention to the principles of mass production, and did it in a way I've never seen any other model tackmaker do.  Her initial investment must have been huge, but her method resulted in one person's being able to produce what must have been thousands of detailed pieces.  Kathleen Bond saddles can all be distinguished by their tooling, which isn't tooling at all but embossing (stamping without cutting the surface).
Somehow she had dies made, metal stamping plates or rolls, that could stamp out entire fenders, jockeys and skirts at a time.  She started with 3 patterns, squash blossom, oak leaf and one I don't remember (possibly laurel branch).  Later she added something called Prairie Rose, a triangular basketweave, seen below.  There may have been other patterns.  The rose saddle on the left (below) was done with a smaller stamp (it is not carved, that is, freehand tooled).

I should add that the breastcollar on the Prairie Rose saddle was done by me in an attempt to match her style, as this saddle was not originally equipped with a breastcollar.
The patterns were scale-able, as proved by my Classic-scale saddle being exactly the same pattern as the natural-colored Round Skirt in front of it.  Options for her saddles included seat stitching.  She could do silver-laced cantles by glueing on a strip of glitter cord (again as above).  Round skirt vs square, silver trim as on my precious brown saddle (2nd pic below, pink blanket), tapaderos as on my black saddle, woven rope horns, etc.,
resulted in quite a variety of pieces over the years.  (My notes say the tapaderos had to be glued in place; I feel they should have been riveted but they were an aftermarket purchase.)  I have always regretted I could not get one of her Silver Saddles.  She had them the last year she was at BreyerFest (2006).  She was in one of the hotel rooms by then and the two of us had quite a talk.  I retain a memory of colored Mylar-like metallic sheeting on the saddles, stamped and glued, in greens, purples, blues and pinks.  Alas, I must have been broke --- I passed up the chance.

Yes, BreyerFest:  that was where I finally met her in person.  She had a booth for her business, K B Leather Art, on the concourse of the main arena, starting probably around 1998 (it may have been earlier but that's the date of my first purchase from her) and ending prior to 2006.  I have a photo which gives an idea of her booth in the year 2000:
This epic shot was the start of a complete new adventure for me!!  which I have shared elsewhere (link below).  This full scale saddle was made entirely by Kathleen, rawhide braiding and all.  Neither my friend Eleanor nor myself could quite believe the sheer audacity of it, and we documented the whole thing.  Eleanor still remembers me jumping up and down.  This saddle was the inspiration for Timaru Star II #423, built in 2001.  There is a complete page on my website about it:  Eleanor's saddle, TSII #423. 

 Kathleen later told me she personally knew Bruce Grant.  I have letters from her discussing her tricks of the trade.  If you could stand her style of conversation she was a good friend.  In a hobby full of individualistic artists, she stands out in my memory:  intensely self-absorbed, slow of speech, yet so talented, so single-minded.  She was a fount of history about leather braiding and tooling, and (I think) contributed to the Leather Worker's Journal.  She taught me how to do braided-rawhide stars.  Kathleen gave me a five-pound marble tooling block (I had told her the year before how I used Masonite) which I still use today.

Here is a black and silver full-scale saddle of hers:
Her signature horse-head is on the fender.

As I said at the beginning, I was fortunate enough to be recently given photos of yet another beautiful saddle by this Ohioan.  There are saddles and there are saddles, but this one was like a portrait of the artist's soul.
 While I don't know for sure, it is highly likely Kathleen drew all these pictorials herself.
 And did her own engraving. 
 She liked cats...
  I've been inspired once before by this artist's full scale saddles.  It isn't too much to imagine it could happen again!!

If it weren't for a certain much-too-long-anticipated book, finally getting underway and slowly being written and drawn ...  ... or for another much-too-long-awaited model saddle, with bits and pieces of it already done...  ... I would be making this pictorial saddle in miniature sooner.  Let's just say that after a year of wandering far afield looking for inspirational pieces, I finally found one.  The TSII is still alive and producing.

Kathleen Bond's leather work is timeless, whether or not she is still producing.  She had the most universally admired artistic vision -- her work was collected all over the world.  Two years ago (2016) I found out she had even planned ahead for her own tombstone.   I was sent a picture.  Incredibly, the stone is in the shape and form of a fully-carved Western Saddle.
But it had only the birth date on it.

Bond.  Kathleen Bond!!

Friday, November 2, 2018

A New Nose Cone

Which is the more enticing title, Repairing the Needle Awl or A New Nose Cone?!  Fixing one's favorite tackmaking tools can be demanded at any time -- usually when you least expect it! -- no matter how many times you've tried to make them strong in the past.  Fortunately, this fix was relatively easy; and I'm feeling pretty good about its longevity.

I was happily tightening braided buttons when this happened:
If there was a crack, I hadn't noticed.  There was only a bit of wobbliness in the shaft.  This Needle Awl is my absolute favorite of my three homemade tools for model tack.  (The other two are the Stitchmarker and the Needle Chisel.)  The Needle Awl is my fid -- the awl essential for braidwork.  In theory, any ice pick could do the job.  In practice, I made this tool with a wooden dowel and a big needle after years of using just a handheld needle to be my fid.  A search of my years of tack pix turned up a tantalizing glimpse of a bare dowel with one button back in 2006:
Of course this shot was not intended to be documenting the Needle Awl!!  It shows a practice braidwork medallion for a saddle (TSII #445).  But it does show one of many uses for the Awl:  enlarging slits for applique braiding.
Without actually digging through my N.A. Notebooks (tack notes), but going only through pictures, I discovered this piece of dowel existed by November of 2005 and was covered in braid by February of 2008.  I had forgotten it had existed so long bare.  Somewhat unlike me, the tool is not dated, only signed.  :(

It has a history of not being quite strong enough to withstand the stresses and strains of the job, as do my other tools.  When the nose cone came off, it was clear the wood had been deeply fractured for a long time:
Now what??!!  I was in the middle of a braidwork job and hated to stop, but tool repair kind of outweighs everything else.  I got to a stopping place and concentrated on fixing the Awl.  Could I slide the buttons off?   The black front button came off, but only one other was loose enough to turn - and it wasn't the end button.  I was getting curious as to what was in there.  This could be my chance to fix and strengthen the Awl once and for all.

I peeled off the linings under the black front button.  This braided-leather button is no different in its formula from the big central one, despite being a tapered cone shape.  It was done over a tapered core (very likely this dowel) and hand-shaped to its present form.
Got down to bedrock, to quote Enid Bagnold (of National Velvet).  It was clear what I had done in the past.  I'd soldered a needle into a brass tube, then into another larger tube, and stuck it in the dowel.  It was also clear what came next:  Smoothing the join and making a new nose cone.
I found a matching dowel that had already been rounded, and hacked off a tip.
 Next, I made a hole, using various drill bits.  Then I enlarged the hole with files and knives.
This is the ugly stage, where you just have to put in the time.  Sawdust everywhere, patience in evidence.  Test-fitting over and over.   It was difficult to get a 'step' inside the hole when most of my tools were straight, but an X-Acto helped.  I got closer and closer; sheer force was used some, as at this scale plain squeezing can help shape wood.
Time to glue.  I separated the gluing from the shaping, thus spanning two days, giving my spirits time to recover and (even better) giving everything time to dry.
Elmer's to the rescue, (my wood glue having died some years ago).  On the second day, I returned to find a very small gap and a solid join. 
 Next came filing.  A LOT of filing.  Here's where having a heavy-duty, non-model-horse-scale wood file comes in handy.  Even my fingernail file got put to work.
Sawdust everywhere!   Again, this is the ugly stage.
An unusual thing happened.  The needle was not centered, but leaned a little (I had known this).  The nose cone was filed down by feel, not (necessarily) by eye; thus, more wood was left on the side the needle tilted towards, making up weight and mass.  This was to balance the asymmetry.  'Twas all going to be hidden by the black button anyway!  I didn't bother to varnish the wood, only smoothing it off with a fine file.

Strapping tape, or nylon-fibres tape, is an old friend when it comes to tool handles; it doesn't get sticky with age and doesn't shift or compress, staying relatively inert if protected.  Really embarrassing to admit I didn't have a roll of strapping tape in the house -- !  I reused the old pieces and found another strip nearby (the recycling spirit of a Front Range Coloradan has to be seen to be believed).  The black Gorilla tape I had used previously (see pictures 5, 6 & 7) I didn't want to reuse, as its feel was too spongy.
 Things were looking up.  Now if only the black button wasn't too loose!  But it went beautifully snugly, having to be forced slowly back into place.  A tight fit: perfect.

My beloved Needle Awl is ready for many more years of service.