The repainting of models started out because Karen was buying entire collections, and many of the models were too scuffed and damaged to sell as original finish. Painting them gave the models a new lease on life and also helped pay for the collections she bought.
Around 1980, Karen discovered airbrushing, which led to the development of copying original finish Breyers. There really wasn't any color she couldn't copy, and Karen fooled quite a few of her friends into thinking an item was an original finish. She tried out standard Breyer colors on molds that were never run in the color, and what's interesting is that these days, those colors are cropping up on new items!
A sad twist of fate started another venture, the Northridge Earthquake! Located at the time just a mere seven miles from the epicenter, the BHR collection took a massive hit, sustaining over $50,000 worth of damage. Fellow collectors flocked from many miles away to come to Karen's rescue. The damage was horrifying. There were pieces everywhere, legs still waxed down to their shelves while bodies were flung across the room. With the help of 6-7 other collectors, they were able to perform "triage" on the model casualties. Models not damaged were wrapped and boxed to prevent further damage; broken pieces were picked up and laid out in open boxes. Though insured, the collection did suffer considerable losses.
The insurance coverage did allow for the hiring of fellow collector Joan Berkwitz (now of The Pour Horse). Joan is a wiz at repairing damaged pieces, and while at that time unfamiliar with airbrush techniques, she did know the color formulas and styles for the Hagen-Renaker pieces. Karen held mini workshops where friends learned the art of repairing ceramics. Once repaired, cracks filled and sanded, models were ready for painting. Karen knew airbrushing, Joan knew techniques, so it was a good match. To make things easier on them, they did large groups of the same colored horses to touch up. Joan would mix colors, and Karen would airbrush as fast as she could go. It was necessity that the H-R style of look-alike Original Finish was learned. While waiting for other repairs to be made and having a large amount of "H-R Monrovia Rose Grey" paint mixed up, Karen grabbed a Breyer Proud Arabian Mare...and the rest is history! The first few items made on scratched up Breyers were auctioned off at one of the BHR Open Houses to benefit a humane group...and the bidding prices went sky high!
Karen is very thankful to Joan for the practical knowledge of shading and colors. In return, Karen has had many a person learn to airbrush looking over her shoulder, and is happy to pass on that knowledge
When the time came for the BHR Collection to be born, those painting talents came in handy. Karen wanted a style of painting that was recognizable. She was not limited by single-color airbrushing and spray-dot eyes. The H-R style influenced the selection of their colors as well as the eye painting and hand detailing. All of the colors for the BHR Collection are first done as sample color pieces at the BHR studio. These prototypes are then sent to China for production. It was really funny in the beginning...the Chinese factory artists are true artists, but they are not horse people. Karen doesn't speak Chinese, and they probably speak fair English, but not horse lingo. It wasn't like she could ask them to paint a palomino...they didn't know what that was! So she would send the reference sample over along with a paint chart--a simple white piece of paper with a smear of the actual color paint she used with a numbered chart...this first, this second, this third. Then Karen would diagram little cartoon horses with a cartoon airbrush with paint coming out...at the correct spray angle to achieve the same result. They copied extremely well! There are still times when Karen asks for a factory sample without sending a paint chart first, and sometimes they forget things like black points on a buckskin, etc., but these mistakes make for interesting test colors!
She's taken up custom glazing and has done some limited runs for Lakeshore.
Update - October 2009: Karen was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. As of February 2010, she's hanging in there, hoping she's around long enough to clean up a few loose ends. This includes selling off most of her real horse herd as well as listing a lot of pieces from her collection to eBay. Hang in there, Karen!!
Black Horse Ranch
1024 Nobles Ct.
Minden, NV 89423
Top: The American Dream, bay blanketed Appaloosa stallion customized from the BHR Reining Horse; this is a test color for the regular run sold by Black Horse Ranch
Bottom: Ima Flashy Zipper, golden chestnut minimum white Paint gelding customized from the BHR Western Pleasure Horse and owned by Karen Grimm