Horse heads and hoarding

©Old horse head rightBreathtakingly beautiful, it was created in an era of true craftsmen; a time when attention to accuracy and detail were not spared.

I had to have it.

Except there was that small problem with the price. It was astronomical. The unshaven, road worn flea market vendor was no dummy. This was a treasure, and he knew it.

At this small town farm tractor swap meet, he had a price on this one item that would easily equal the contents of most other booths there. After some unsuccessful haggling, I left empty handed.

©Dallas with horsehead
Does this guy look like he’d know that a hunk of iron shaped like a horse would be worth a fortune? My fantasy of offering him a fraction of the asking price and getting it bought ended in a great, big, “Nope!”.

Two years were to pass… during which time I was able to research the piece and it’s possible origin. What I discovered was shocking. The flea market dealer claimed it came from a livery stable in Bloomington, Illinois. On the other hand, several equine antique dealers I contacted told me that it is a horse butcher shop sign from France. However, most of these were hollow, made of zinc, and often gilded or painted red.

Paris-Then-and-Now-08-634x442
Boucherie chevaline on Rue d’Aboukir, Paris, France – image source

Ultimately, I decided that in my house, it was going to be a vintage livery stable sign. After making arrangements to meet the nomadic vendor at yet another flea market, I went to the bank, withdrew a pile of cash, and the treasure was finally mine.

©horseheadsideMOUTH
Look at the detail – whoever sculpted this knew exactly what a horse’s mouth looks like, right down to the teeth, including the canines.

Measuring about 20″ tall x 18″ deep, this horse head is made of cast iron and appears to have it’s original finish. It weighs close to 100 pounds.

Once it was home and I could get better pictures, I contacted a number of foundries that specialize in restoration and reproduction of architectural iron decoration. No one had any further information, other than one comment that the quality of this piece puts it more in the category of sculpture rather than mere signage.

©HorseheadMarkThere is a mark on the back, but I have learned that not much is known about these old marks on iron pieces, as it has only recently started to be considered worthy of study and preservation.
KauffmanHeadBIG

I was delighted to find another horse head in cast iron at an upscale antique dealer online. Originally a sign for the iconic Kauffman’s Saddlery in New York City, it’s for sale for the princely sum of (gasp) $75,000.

This is much, much more than I paid for my horse head, so finding this one did serve to assuage my guilt about spending so much on something that was destined to sit on a file cabinet in my office for a few years because it was far too heavy to hang on any wall in our 1800’s farm house. So much for displaying my new-found treasure; I often felt a twinge of remorse as I ran my hand over the finely detailed face sitting amidst books and papers in my HoofPrints office.

Then, as if the remodeling gods had planned it all along, the perfect place to hang the treasure materialized. After having our chimney repaired, it became apparent that the inside part of the fireplace and surrounding wall was in dire need of attention, too. We tore into it without a plan, other than to replace some damaged timbers in the wall, insulate against cold drafts, and install a more efficient wood burning insert.

IMG_5446fireplace
Click to read about the Epic Mess Also Known as Fixing the Fireplace

After agonizing over picking the stone for the surround, and then choosing and prepping the barn wood beams that would make up the mantle, we came terrifyingly close to putting the TV above the fireplace. It all seemed so sensible. The room is small, there are few places to sit that let you enjoy both television and fire. Stacking the two seemed logical. And ugly.

Eventually, one of us realized the true solution to the problem. What could be more practical than fabricating from scratch a massive support system to display my treasured horse head above our beautiful new mantle? Rob fired up the welder and did just that.

IMG_5588horsehead
The cardboard horse head mockup served us well in the planning process of the fireplace wall. I feel a little sad to toss it in the trash. For now it’s proudly surveying the wreckage that is my office.

I took a fair amount of flak over my excessively accurate cardboard replica, but it let us choose the most perfect spot on the wall with confidence and ease.

I still marvel that the round axe grinding stone (one of many that we found laying around the farm) was the absolute perfect size to surround the oak leaf laurel and mane of the horse head that fit up against the wall. Two completely unrelated items from the same era found themselves married on our wall as if they belonged together all the time.

What an amazing thing – all this stuff; hand hewn barn beams, millstones, an insanely heavy iron horse head… all acquired at different times – with no particular purpose in mind, have now converged in our living room to create this incredibly beautiful wall. I wish I could boast that we thoughtfully curated all the items with this vision in mind, and through careful orchestration, it became a reality. But, frighteningly, I suspect that it could have just as easily turned out like an episode of Hoarders.

©HorseHeadwithLights
He looks for all the world like a majestic wild stallion neighing for his herd
IMG_5523fireplace
The fireplace wall shortly after completion with the horse head in all it’s glory. I think that little Lucy was most happy to have a warm fire to lay in front of once again. We struggled a LOT with the choice of materials for the fireproof hearth/floor. Previously it had been tile. And because the sub-floor under is wood, the tile had cracked. In a fit of outside-the-box thinking, we wondered how a thick steel plate would work. It is, of course, unbreakable. And it absorbs heat from the insert gloriously – a footwarmer like no other for man and dog! The whole story about how that came to be is here.

Want to see what else happens?

Fun on the Farm Part 1 is here

The Epic Mess of Fixing the Fireplace is here

Tearing Down an Old Barn to Repurpose the Timbers in the house is here

The adventure of utilizing the first few timbers as a Fireplace Mantle is here

Utilizing more timbers in a big room upstairs – Of Trials and Strong Backs is here

No One Will Ever See It – an Adventure In Remodeling is here

We are still not finished, but you can see “The Aftermath” of one barn beam project here

Sometimes you have to look back… at scary pictures here

More looking back… Scary pictures, recycling and repurposing here

The surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise is here

12 comments

  1. Gina, I love the way you write. You manage to make a fun adventure out of everything! We’ve never met and probably never will, but I feel as if I’ve known you forever! Love your fireplace wall, mantle , and amazing horse head!

    Like

  2. Wow! A beautiful piece of sculpture that turned into a wonderful project. Nothing that beautiful should ride around to swap meets anyway. Great job.

    Like

    • Thanks – he had a some other really cool things that were pretty pricey, too. Made me wonder how he made any money, but he apparently wasn’t desperate or he’d have moved more on his price. I figured since he didn’t sell it to someone else in the two years that it took me to get up enough nerve to pay that much for it – that it was meant to be mine.

      Like

  3. Great story, Gina. I too would have emptied my bank account for that amazing piece of art. I can only imagine sitting in front of that beautiful fire with a glass of wine, a good book, and a dog at my feet…life is good.

    Like

  4. I really enjoy your web page and the articles you advertise for sale and your stories. As I read this article, it sounds like you paid more then $75,000 for this horse head. Is that true?

    Like

    • Thanks for the kind words about my stories and HoofPrints’ products. And heaven’s NO! I did not pay even close to $75,000 for my horse head. I am pretty frugal, and this is probably the top of my list of lifetime “frivolous” purchases, but after having it for several years I don’t regret buying it one bit.

      Like

  5. It was been fun seeing the progress on your farm (have been for a long time admired all you signed up for and doing a neat business too!). GREAT JOB!!!

    Like

    • Thanks for the kind words Susan – I am not sure that if we’d known what we were getting into, that we’d have been brave (or dumb) enough to take it on, but I am glad we did.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s