Thursday, April 19, 2018

TSII #378, Kim's Carousel II

Timaru Star II #378
Restoring TSII #378 has taught me so much.  I got what I was after:  tremendous practice enhancing, preserving and updating a 23-year-old saddle.  Yet its two main lessons somehow managed to cancel each other out!  I learned heaps about restoring, replacing, strengthening and otherwise saving such old saddles; but I also learned that this work is, in cost-benefit-analysis terms at least, just not worth it.  In plain language, it would have been faster and easier to make a complete new silver parade set.  Rebuilding an old one was fascinating but in the end an exercise in indulgence.
How glad I am to be able to indulge, then.
#378 was originally built for the PAS.
The third main lesson this saddle taught me was the least surprising of all.  It is one I've known all along.  No matter how my brain tells me to hurry up and do a quickie -- no matter the reasons, be they solid as gold -- once the tackmaker really gets her teeth into a project, it proceeds at exactly the same speed as do all my past tack glaciers.  It sets its own pace.  Nothing less than the very best I am able to do with the skills and materials I have at the time will do --- and the devil take the clock.
TSII #378, Birds Eye view
Having said that, it became clear in the long course of this restoration job -- four months!  January to April -- that I was changing my approaches and trying out new things.  There was progress.  I started with the breastcollar, as it was a miniature sample of the serapes (hardest) and had something of everything.  On the breastcollar and the hip drops, I was lacing down the original silver tape, which was one layer thick and rather fragile.  In mid stride -- on the bridle -- I was replacing the tape but with only one layer.  At the end -- the skirts, fenders, taps and serapes -- I was ripping off the old tape and replacing it with two layers of fresh new tape.  Only by doubling was the tape strong enough to withstand the handling.  Lacing it down had the Mylar getting gummy with the new adhesive, so I cleaned it off with rubbing alcohol, which worked... too well.  Surpise, surprise,  I discovered rubbing alcohol would completely remove the gold of the Mylar!!  It is silver beneath...
As far as the prism tape went (the colors of the figures), I wanted to retain as much of the original as possible.  In the event, the nearside serape retained two snippets:  the blue saddle and the lower blue platform edge/rounding board stripe.  (Seen above on the buckskin.)  The offside serape retained its tail and pole (seen below).  Everything else, except for the forehead ornaments, had to be replaced.  A hard-learned lesson was to back all the prism tape.  In some cases I only managed nail polish!  but the horse heads and horses were backed with sheet aluminum.  (See below.)  Complete new medallions were made, not without some mental anguish over removing the originals, which dated back to 1995.
Off serape, After (2018)
Near serape, Before (1995)
Ultimately the original ponies, and nearly every piece of silver tape not recycled, wound up in my tack notebooks.  Below is just one sample page, showing holding them down with Scotch Tape.  The detritus is additional prism tape layers/pieces.  Some numbers:  This restoration job took 46 pages across two notebooks, N.A. XIII and XIV.  And they weren't small pages!  (That black stain?  Just a reminder of TSII #456, Star Wars.)
I made a fourth Needle Chisel.  It's second from right in this shot.  I'd needed that size for some time.  After this photo was taken I re-soldered and re-filed it and it is smoother and better than what is shown.
 An unbelievable amount of work went into updating #378.  New buckles and rings, replacing the galvanized with stainless steel, was the least of it.  The cantle was rebraided with new Galaxy lace (the old had turned white).  The seat piece was strengthened with a tree-like lining of metal and leather and a new undercantle was made.  The gold rings (this is carousel!) on the taps were replaced and their inner edges stitched down with the smallest Mylar lacing I possessed.  In some cases the original ring silver tape was kept.
The browband was replaced.  The ferrules on the bridle were stripped of an ancient coating of glue, polished and recoated with nail polish.  Much of the hardest work was, in fact, peeling off glue and coatings of one sort or another.  I learned how in the course of the work:  Rub hard with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, then wipe with the dry end; Kill all the Q-tips!  When the coating had softened, roll-peel it off, while continuing to dissolve it off with vinegar and more alcohol.   This photo finally captured the process; I was using my needle chisel.
I learned that glue grabs glue and to let the roll build up to large dimensions.  Peeling is addictive.  Once clean, the leather was dyed, Lexol'd and Leather Glow'd.  Alas, after I had spent days and days stripping the serapes, I concluded that such work did not really need to be done, at least on the leather...!  Removing it from silver made sense (it turned various shades of brown and grey and was mildly gooey).  But  I could have left most of that coating... it had done a good protective job for 23 years.  I did leave it on the taps, skirts, fenders, bridle and breastcollar.

The work involved in setting the prongs of the figures/medallions is as difficult and tricky as it's always been.  It is the only way I know to make absolutely sure that silver won't fall off.
Bottom side of pony medallion, before setting
Top side of same pony.  Prongs are hard to see, due to angle of shot.
 This is what the back of one of the restored serapes looks like, before edge-braiding and before its final black-leather lining is on:
 The saddle edges that previously had a thin line of stamped silver tape were now silver edge-braided with No. 12 Mylar.  Mylar tinsel is just about my hardest-to-braid material, but nothing else has got that sparkle!  It matched perfectly the carousel air and bling.

The corona blanket was very challenging, because it came at the end, when the artist's vision is just about drained (and they are looking ahead to something else!).  The original was made of pompoms, and while there is value in retaining original equipment, in this case the temptation to use advanced technology was too great.  (I.e. Melody's type of corona was SO much better!)  I found an LRB (Lorrie Batchelor?) blanket in my spares box.  Thank the god of forgotten purchases!! -- I couldn't have made a corona on my own in the time frame I had set.  With a lot of fiddling, because the corona was too big but fortunately had a fender gap, I made it smaller.  This view is of the process of the darting, having peeled back the chamois lining part way:
Then I darted it smaller sidewise -- too small!! -- and so had to cut some stitches.  Halfway through this tricky operation I realized leaving a hole in a middle would do no harm and gain some flexibility, which was what I wanted.  It looks bad, but all 4 seams have been stopped by dedicated stitches and the gap is hidden under the saddle.  Now the blanket is stretchy and can adapt to different backs.  The finished bottom is pure chamois, a thick but protective layer.
I am beyond grateful for the chance to pull out all the stops, devote myself to a lost art and go completely whole hog on a piece that might have been of interest to very few. Give me leave to do my utmost!  says Isaac Dinesen (author of Out of Africa), speaking of the artist.  Perhaps some of these restorative techniques may be of use to others dealing with old silver tape saddles.  For future TSII Parade sets, however (saving tape medallions for irregular spaces), I think I will stick with iron-ons.

Unless and until they, too, need restoring.

On to NaMoTackMo!  and beyond:  future sales pieces.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Reflections on Restorations

TSII #377, built in 1995, retaped in 2000
I was asked to blog about parade restorations in general and #378 in particular.  I'll start out with a brief overview of TSII silver Parade sets, touch on reasons for restoring, look at materials I've used and then list those sets I've restored.  I'm afraid focusing closely on #378 will take another post!
     Here's my working approach:  I'll use no silver tape (aluminum metal mending tape) unless it is physically held down, either by clinching, pinning, lacing, tying, sewing or braiding.  Its adhesive is only to be used for initial positioning; after that it might as well not exist for me.  Silver tape's beauty, workability and ease of access are great assets for me, and I do use it --- but its gum will die and turn to crumbs.  Of that I am sure and certain.
TSII #378, Kim's Carousel, built in 1995
I've created 103 scale-model silver Parade saddles since 1979.  The first through the 38th were painted-silver, the 39th through the 85th were silver tape sets and from the 86th on they have been made with various other technologies.  Ikandis (iron-ons) are the current favorite.  The first silver tape set was TSII #230, built in 1988.  The last was #421, built in 2001 (85th).  The 84th and 85th sets emerged already laced down, so the last silver tape set liable to need restoring is really #415, the Millennium Set (2000)(83rd).  So that's a solid 45 silver saddles... almost half my production...  twelve years' worth, which could potentially be in need of restoration.
TSII #230, built in 1988, retaped in 1993

 I've always wondered what happened to TSII #415, the Millennium Set.  It was sold at auction to Angie Diekman for the then-unheard-of price of $1100.00.  Like a fussy mother, I worry about the copper in it.  Copper and leather do not get along.
TSII #415, built in 2000
 I am using the term 'restore' somewhat loosely here.  It could just as well be called rebuilding, refurbishing, repairing and/or conserving, depending on what was done.  These terms have different meanings: for instance conserving means preserving and enhancing what's already there, while rebuilding denotes actual reconstruction.  Each case gets what I think it needs.  My goal for each saddle is to keep as much as possible of the original, spirit and design both, while strengthening, repairing, cleaning, extending the life of, and taking advantage of new technologies for, that particular piece.  A rebuilt piece glows;  it's had a double helping of the fire of its creator.  It should last a lot longer afterwards too.  : )  It takes a brave soul to destroy an old piece, but if the vision of what's to replace it is confident enough, it's worth it, and for a bonus you learn how it aged.  I'm learning about restoring the same way I learned about silvering:  the hard way.  

Over 40 years (officially), my material choices for model silver saddles have ranged far afield.  I've gone through silver paint, silver tape, aluminum sheet, cast pieces, Mylar, sandwich approaches, semi-precious stones and iron-ons.  My materials and techniques have changed so much I'd be a fool to think I've settled on a final method even now.   We still have real metal and powdered metal... and...

Wouldn't it be better to just restore using the materials that that hard-won experience has taught me were best?  Of course, especially if history meant nothing.  There is an even more uncomfortable question:  Wouldn't it be easier and faster, instead of exhaustively cleaning, peeling, rebuilding and reconfiguring these older pieces (especially if they cannot use modern techniques), to just make new ones??
Gentle reader, alas, the logical, cost-efficient answer is yes.

But when has logic and cost-efficiency been the only determining force at the Timaru Star II??!?
TSII #12 on *Opium, remade by Amarna/Elizabeth Bouras
How lucky I am.

In a curious mood, I dug up the numbers on TSII silver saddles I'd previously restored, fixed up and otherwise repaired.  I was astonished.  Starting in 1993, it turned out I'd restored 12 sets!!!  (counting this one, #378).   Of those twelve, two were not silver tape sets, but that's still 10 of the 45.  Ten!!!  almost a quarter of them!!!  I had no idea I'd done so many.  What a field:  redoing portions of a fraction of a portion of one artist's work!!!

Here's the list:
In 1993, #230 - the very first silver tape one, owned by Carol Gerhard.
In 1994, #243, Karen Gerhardt's Wizard's Vale, and #252.
In 1997, #12 and #197, two painted sets originally owned by Elizabeth Bouras.
In 2000, #377, Sapp's (ultimately the inspiration for Breyer's first porcelain), #375 Northern Brilliance and #306 Easley's Airy Indian-- in the middle of this year I invented Mylar-tying.
In 2002, #357, a Classic scale set.
In 2009, #318, Khambour's Pyr spotted.
In 2012, #355, Rouillard's, now owned  by Jeanette Eby.
In 2018, #378, Kim's Carousel.  There is another in the pipeline, #362, Foote's/Evans'.
TSII #355, built in 1993,  restored in 2012
A few patterns reveal themselves.  Very few of the colored-prism-tape sets have returned to me, even though those years saw the majority of them made.  No. 378 is the second to come back, after #243.  Not every saddle made with silver tape needs to be restored (!).  Two of the 45 silver tape saddles have remained with me, #400 Rainbow Brilliance my own, and #309 the Canadian Buffalo (bought back).  Number 12 started out painted but was redone with silver tape -- and I bought it back as well.  The most obvious revelation is that restoring TSII silver parade saddles is so expensive, so rarely encountered and takes so long that only wealthy and older collectors can indulge. It truly would be easier and cheaper to build new ones.
TSII #12 as received in 1997.  Bit by Sue Rowe.
Could there ever be a market for such a skill??  especially after I'm gone...?
But consider.  Many other tackmakers and many other model saddles use silver tape technology.  Many saddles are being made with a single layer of aluminum tape, pressed and stamped into leather.  It's so easy to do that.  The tape can be cut with scissors.  It sticks like magic and it's so shiny.  It looks marvelous.  It'll stay that way for years.
TSII #12, retaped in 1997.
 Four years, plus or minus, depending on conditions.
TSII #12, retaped in 1997.
Even #12 has not escaped; it is losing squares at the top of the fenders as we speak.  : (

In the Guide I try to share what I've learned about those conditions.  I noticed tape first started breaking and falling away on areas of leather which BENT:  the tops of fenders, the crowns of bridles, the shoulders of breast collars, the upper portions of hip drops.  Non-disturbed areas tended to hold their tape much longer.  The first restorations I did were simply re-applying the tape.  It wasn't until 2000 and my discovery of Mylar Tinsel that I evolved a method to stop, I hoped much more permanently, silver tape from falling off.  (Remember:  I Hate Glue.  Long story, having to do with a father's sensitivity and my own huge pride.)  The new My-tying method was first tried on #418, the Rainbow Laced, and it was a major design change -- a ton of work and heavy use of the Needle Chisel.  But it held.  I believe it is holding still.
TSII #418, photo by Cabot
In fascinating chapters I moved through cut and shaped aluminum spots, set spots and Mylar lacing, sandwiches with cut-out layers, and cast plates, from #421 (2001) (85th) to #445 (2007) (96th).  There is a whole book here, don't think I don't know it!!  In 2008 I tried the ikandis (iron-ons) with Eleanor Harvey's #447 Zhivago Hexagon No 1 (97th), and knew I'd come home.  I haven't looked back.  All succeeding TSII silver parade sets have used this technology.  But I still keep silver tape for special applications, when it alone can do the job.  See the Clyde Goehring posts!
TSII #447, Eleanor's Hexagon
If you think it ironic I've settled for adhesives after so long and hard a fight to repair their lack:  You're right!!  It IS ironic.  It's part of a twisting tale of adventure, and I'm only sorry I can't tell it all here.  Between braidwork and silver saddles, I've chosen braidwork as my first love.  Silver saddles are very close behind; the two are like two children of the same mother.  There are certainly TSII Silver Saddles with braidwork on them.  I've been in the field long enough to see how the materials I've chosen, for my own reasons, age.  I look forward to seeing how the ikandis, and other materials and techniques, age.  And I do wonder what's next for my silver saddles.
About TSII #378:
As of today, the base plate (bottom skirt), seat, breastcollar, both fenders and tapaderos and hip drops, and the bridle, are DONE.  Still to go are the serapes.  The off serape has only its center medallion pony and its edge-braiding yet to be done.
When all's finished, it'll be NaMoTackMo for me.  There might even be time for an auction piece - we'll just have to see.  : )