When I went to BreyerWest, one of the things I was most excited about was A Good Vintage. This is a show series for vintage custom model horses. I'd been excited about this series of shows ever since I first heard about them. I was hoping that they would still be going on when I returned to the States and was able to live show again. In fact, before I learned of last minute opening for the BW Open Show, I had thought that my only chance to show while I was on my trip would be in A Good Vintage.
On that Saturday, I got there early and set up my string of old custom horses - all done by me, except for Ashley, my dapple grey CAM. Setup and judging was at the same time as a workshop I had signed up for, so I anxiously awaited my chance to look at all of the wonderful old custom horses, and to see if mine had been awarded anything.
When the workshop was done, I headed over to the Vintage show area, camera in hand. From across the room, I couldn't believe my eyes and I stopped in my tracks!
There stood Tequila Sunrise! I knew it was him immediately, there was no doubt.
A bit of backstory, I was a prolific customizer in the late 90's-early 2000's, before a hobby hiatus, due to my life basically, well, imploding. I tried to take pictures of everything I'd done (though I'm sure a few pieces escaped unphotographed, or I have lost their pictures by now). The pictures I do have, I've looked through often and wondered where the horses had ended up. I donated a lot of horses to live shows, and did some selling and trading. As a result, far more of my work went out in the world than stayed home with me.
One of my favorites, and one that I had been hesitant to sell, was Tequila Sunrise. He was made in 1999, a G1 Arabian stallion, repositioned to a Halter show pose, or stepping into said pose.
I painted him, complete with a dark oiled face, and eyes that would give the judge a "look at me!" type of attitude. Then I haired him with a mixed chestnut mane and tail.
I took him him to the Desert Wind Classic live show, back in 1999, shortly after he was finished. Someone at the show talked me into selling him, and I never saw him again.
I've looked at his pictures often and wondered where he ended up in the world. That Saturday at BreyerWest, I spotted him from across the room and was SO excited!
Excitement turned to confusion when I got closer. This is where our happy story starts to go off the rails.
First I noticed: all these years later, he has the same name that I gave him. That is awesome!...
But... As I mentioned I won't be naming names. Let's just say that was not my name on his documentation sheet. It said he was created in 1986, also not correct. I was very confused, but the only thing I knew for sure was that this was my long lost Tequila Sunrise, not an ounce of doubt in my mind about that.
From the AGV show holder, I found out who his owner was and I was assured that it was probably just a mix-up. I was willing to believe that.
I took many more pictures of him, awash in excited feelings of spotting one of my little guys again, out in the world, after so long.
Later that evening, I approached his owner, asking if they owned Tequila Sunrise. Then I asked where they bought him.
"The Desert Wind Classic."
I grinned. I had imagined that he had changed hands, who knows how many times, but no. It seemed he had stayed with the person who bought him from me! This was so cool!
"Was that you??" they asked.
"Yes." I replied.
Excitement and hugs ensued. She said that I hadn't signed him and that she had posted in a Vintage group on Facebook, trying to find his artist. She told me that someone else said he looked like _______'s work (the artist credited on his documentation).
So that was it, I thought, just a mix up, brought on by my forgetting to sign him. I have no idea how many of my old custom horses were floating around unsigned. I do know that I had (and still do have) a tendency to rush finish horses before a show and often forget to sign them until later. He was most likely sold before I remembered that he needed a signature.
Later on, several of us met up to hang out and she brought Tequila along. I hammed it up with my little guy. First time I'd held him in almost 20 years!
We had a fun time at dinner, and BreyerWest moved along.
At some point after, I searched the Vintage FB group she'd talked about and found her post looking for his artist.
(Please excuse the pirate speak in these screenshots, I had my FB language set to Pirate at the time)
There's my guy again!
I read on down the comments.
Huh? (brown is the artist who was given credit on his documentation)
Okay, so instead of a third party saying they thought it was work done by _______, it was that other artist themselves who said it was their work. I was a little perturbed, but thought maybe the owner just forgot how it all came about. It had been a couple of years. I was still giving everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Granted, I haven't created a ton (hundreds or thousands) of pieces, I have no idea how many this person has done... However, I remember my creations. I would not take credit for a piece, in whole or in part, that I did not remember.
Excitement to confusion, to relief and happiness, to frustration. That was the roller coaster ride so far.
I don't have screenshots from this point on, because I still thought the situation was resolved.
Here's where I probably should have kept my mouth shut (not typed anything), but I commented - bringing the whole post back from the dead. I wanted to let the owner know that I'd found the post she told me about. I also wanted to say that it was great to reconnect with her, and to see my little guy again after so long.
A few other people commented after me, missing that the mystery had been resolved and speculating on which artists may have created him. The owner replied, saying that she knew who made him (that being me), and echoing my thoughts that it was great to have reconnected at BreyerWest.
I followed along, receiving notifications anytime someone commented, still feeling like all was right in the world, or at least in this small corner of it.
Then, while visiting my Granny in Colorado, this bomb dropped.
I received a notification that the owner had commented on the post and I went to read... this:
What? No, really, what??
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hurt, enraged, confused, and swallowed up by a maelstrom of emotions all at once. I tried, but I really couldn't stop thinking about it. A signature covered over? The other artist still insisting she did it, but not the positioning or hair? Yet another insinuation from the owner that he looks nothing like the rest of my work? Well, he's the only oil-faced show Arabian I've done, and one of only a few red chestnuts, so there's that. To this day, I still don't know what she means by that, but apparently it was important for her to keep planting the seeds of doubt.
This happened during the few short days that I had to spend with my Granny, who is in poor health. Now I was sucked back into this mess, having been publicly "named and shamed" for trying to take credit for... my own work. I had already told the owner that I had pictures of him and would share them with her when I returned home to Japan - in a MONTH. To be "called out" and put on trial with no way of adequately defending myself was more than I could handle.
I don't like to "vague book" (where you post some vague status on FB about "something" wrong that makes people have to ask about it) but, even in the middle of being deeply hurt, I didn't want to do my own naming and shaming. Still, I had to say *something*. I typed a draft public reply to the owner's accusations and deleted it, several times,
In the end, I posted something to my own FB page about being upset and wondering why people who say they don't want to be in the middle of a fight would start a fight.
Apparently, it wasn't vague enough, because the owner of Tequila sent me a private message almost immediately and said she hoped my post wasn't about her comment. I told her that it was. I was so upset by that point that I was shaking.
We ended up having a private conversation, where she claimed to be the victim, caught in the middle of all of this. I told her that, as far as I was concerned, the whole matter was resolved at BreyerWest and I had been fine about the whole thing. I can't help if this other artist won't let it go and I also can't help that the owner herself kept dragging out the drama by insisting he looks nothing like the rest of my work. She ended up deleting the whole thread. I told her I didn't expect her to do that. But it was done. I told her, again, that all I could do or say was send her my pictures of him when I returned home - in one month.
So I did. It was one of the very first things I did upon our jet lagged return home, after the marathon flight halfway around the world. I went straight to the drawer where my pictures are and pulled his out - they were right on top. I took pictures of the pictures and promptly sent them to her, including the dates that were on the back.
In case you missed it, here it is again:
That's it. A thumbs up on messenger, after everything that had happened, and after all of the public accusations she had made.
It's now two and a half months past that response, nothing else was ever said, and... I'm still upset.
I've come to realize that maybe the only way for me to get past this is this post. When I was angry and things were fresh, I had thought about a post on the same Vintage FB group, where the mess started. But I decided not to do that. I didn't, and still don't, want to create any (more) drama about this whole situation. I just need to get it off my chest. I feel like I need to release it all out into the universe and then, hopefully, move on.
One thing that hurts the most about all of this is that the other two people involved are fellow model horse artists. Both the artist claiming credit (for the paint job she can't remember, but not the repositioning or hair) AND the owner, who continued to insinuate that I wasn't telling the truth. I wonder, how would they feel in my situation? If someone else insisted on taking credit for a horse they VIVIDLY remember creating, step by step. How would they feel?
Another thing that hurts me is that Tequila Sunrise was created when I lived with my Grandparents in Arizona. Which means I would have showed him to them when he was done. Which means my Granddad would have loved him. He loved all of my little horses. Sometimes after he said that a newly finished horse was beautiful, I would start pointing out the flaws in them, ever aware of imperfections in my work. He gave me wise words then: "An artist is his worst critic".
It was Granddad who bought me my copy of Color Formulas and Techniques, which became my artistic Bible and propelled my work forward in leaps and bounds during that time. Granddad was a big supporter of my work and his passing was one of the reasons that I had quit. It's because I knew he had seen Tequila, and I knew therefore that he had loved him (by default), that I couldn't let this go and just get over it.
How would the other artists in this situation feel if a horse they created, that was cherished by the most important person in their life, was in danger of being credited to a person who can't even remember it?
I can answer for myself: my heart hurts. It has been hurting for months now.
The whole thing being unresolved until I could supply my pictures, at the time located on the other side of the world, cast a dark cloud over the rest of the U.S. trip for me. Even upon returning home, it was a struggle for me to blog about the trip and especially BreyerWest. This is why it took me months to talk about BW. I pondered for a long time: should I even mention seeing him when I post about the event, particularly the Vintage show? Spotting him on that show table was a major highlight of that whole first week of the trip. Later, when everything blew up, I was wishing I'd never seen him there.
I said there was a lesson to be learned here, a moral to this story. Again, I'll repeat it:
Sign. Your. Work.
Also, in related news, I am working on a gallery of my old work. It will be on my website and will feature all of the custom horses I had made that I still have pictures of. I'd love to know where any of them are, but I certainly don't ever want to go through this again.