Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Midnight Sun Mystery

You’d think that a day that featured ducks with hats, boat anchors and a trip to the bead store would have been more entertaining than it actually was. It wasn’t bad, mind you, but it definitely had the potential to be epic.

It did leave me a little bit exhausted, so today’s another light research day. Let’s talk about another picture another horse that became a Breyer model. Here’s Midnight Sun:

What’s different here is that the picture has just as interesting a story behind it as the model itself. I found it at the local flea market - a market so awesome it’s where other antiquers do their shopping, and where I make most of my fabulous finds.

There used to be quite a few horse farms in the area, and running across framed horse prints or photographs isn’t that unusual. What made this particular print stand out was the size - 24 by 28 inches, framed and matted! And beautifully hand-tinted, an obvious labor of love. It was cheap - I think the vendor was only asking five bucks for it. How could I possibly pass it by?

My first reaction when I saw it was "Ooh, that has to be Midnight Sun!" Or at least someone with a strong family resemblance; the photograph didn’t show up in my initial research, so I just assumed it might have been one of his foals. Eventually, someone either on Blab or Haynet did track the photograph down in an early 1950s encyclopedia and it was, indeed, Midnight Sun himself. (Whoever you were, thank you!)

It made me wonder how this picture ended up in Michigan, of all places. Most of the non-model horse materials I find around here relate to horse racing, of both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred variety. (I find a little bit of Polo-related stuff, too. Apparently a big thing in Detroit in the 1920s!) A huge portrait of a Tennessee Walking Horse Stallion stands out.

I didn’t get many clues from the vendor. I had engaged in the usual flea market banter with him, and the only information he could offer was that the picture, and his other horsey items (books and tack, mostly) came from an estate sale in Tennessee. The picture still had its paper label on the back, indicating that it had been framed in Nashville, so that part rang true.

It was the faint inscription in pencil that’s bothered me, though. I won’t try to give you a close up of the section in question; it’s more impression than pigment, and impossible to photograph. It took me a while to translate it, but it reads:

"To Mrs. Eddie Eggert, Harlinsdale Farm"

Oh dear. It’s not just a nice picture of Midnight Sun - it seems that this might be an honest-to-goodness Midnight Sun artifact. Do I possibly own something I’m not supposed to own?

I haven’t really followed up on the possibility, yet. If someone wants it back, I have no problem in returning it. It’s just sorta been a low priority, and I rather like having this mystery hanging in my office.

Anyway, back to the model itself. The Midnight Sun model isn’t based on Midnight Sun, it’s probably based - at least partly - on a sculpture of his infamous son, The Talk of the Town. Infamous in that his weird, exaggerated gait was responsible for setting in motion the "Big Lick" notion that’s been the bane of the breed ever since.

The sculpture in question is by Grand Wood Carving, a Chicago-based manufacturer of fine art quality wood carvings, whose sculpture of Whirlaway was copied by Breyer as the #36 Racehorse, and whose entire line may have been the inspiration for the Woodgrain Finish. Here’s a scan of a lousy multi-generational copy that I have in my archives:

The story of Grand Wood Carving’s Breyer connections and coincidences is enough to fill at least a week’s worth of posts, and I don’t have the time or energy to go into it today. (I'll get to eventually, no worries.)

Anyway, the original mold was created as a generic Tennessee Walking Horse, not a portrait model. Peter Stone asked for suggestions of famous TWHs from the association down in Tennessee, and they offered up Midnight Sun. Unfortunately, Peter didn’t do any follow up research, or provide samples of the future model to the right persons who would have set him straight. Midnight Sun was flat shod, and came from the pre-Big Lick era!


GWR said...

That's fantastic! I wish Breyer would do a Midnight Sun v2.0 that better represented the real horse.

Latter-Day Flapper said...

I am insanely jealous of your picture.

The Geekess said...

That is an amazing find! I'm just catching up on your posts; just found your blog today. So cool that you live in MI, because I do, too :-) On the west side, over by Grand Rapids, north of there by the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. MS in one of my most favorite horses.