Thursday, 24 May 2018

Interview: Emma Kelley, First Owner of Magpie Models

What with the never ending winter and the subsequent rush of a short painting season, I thought we might have something fun to fill the void. A while back Emma Kelley kindly granted us an interview discussing her time as the first owner of Magpie Models. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into Magpie's earliest days, and many, many thanks to Miss Emma for taking the time to chat with us.


Why did you decide to purchase Magpie Models?

It was about 1986 and there was a government scheme to start small businesses; about £40 per week. I decided to start making model stables; as my dad was a boat-builder, wooden stuff was simple to me.

After a while I decided to get in touch with Mrs. Gordon of Swallow Horsetoys (she used the name Dream Ponies then) and she agreed to sell me shells and hair as needed to complete myself. I immediately took to finishing them nicely with black points, shading, white markings, and eyes.

Adverts in Pony magazine got my home enterprise going! After a couple of years Mrs. Gordon's stock of shells was running low and when she retired she offered me the moulds and all her stock to purchase. We hired a lorry and went to Colchester and brought back her entire workshop!

Why did you choose the name Magpie Models?

With her blessing I named the new business Magpie Models due to the magpies hopping about in the meadow opposite and I made a nice logo.

Do you know anything about the history of the molds?

Back to the moulds, I think they pre-dated Mrs. Gordon, I think they were made in the 1950's!

Where did you get your idea for the Personality Collection line?

More detailed spraying and mixed mane and tails took my fancy and to keep the business fresh I introduced them as a collection. It was always an aim to be as realistic as possible in colour and markings. We were always careful to paint hooves dark on black legs and light on white legs; socks, blazes, stars, etc were all realistic too.

How many people did you end up employing?

There were 5 in workshop and 6 outworkers. Incidentally, Jan Adams (last active owner of Magpie), I met early on as she made leather clothing and I bought off-cuts of black leather from her, eventually buying whole skins from the same supplier. Jan then painted riders for many years.

What do you see as your major contribution to Magpie?

Can't really say, but everything you see that we made, I worked on from scratch. From the pattern stage, to sourcing material and fitting and finally making templates and showing an out worker how to make item. Basically I was Magpie!

How did you know about Dream Ponies? Did you collect them when you were younger?

Yes I had Dream ponies, only 3! At the age of 9-ish.

How did you know Mr. Graham Stevens who made the accessory molds?

Found Graham, most charming man, as he moulded in white metal and was needing stirrups made. Early on my dad, Peter, would fashion a copper tube into a "D" shape and cut into tiny slices for stirrups which were then sprayed silver, We were an inventive lot! Later on we added buckets, cones, and tiny imitation bolts. He was so good work with that I was inspired to design things.

What are some of your fondest memories during your time as Magpie?

Fondest memories? Many happy hours! The excitement of picking up catalogues and Persie collections from the printers. Days spent setting up scenes with our photographer, David Guest. When the spools of hair arrived from China! Long chats on phone with customers. Best of the last posting date for Christmas when no more could be done - for a few days anyway!

What were some of your most challenging times?

We were rather stuck for choice with tools (called tools not moulds in the trade) as they are tricky to set up and my runs were not huge. Also, the polystyrene, especially in wood effect was slightly moody with legs bending and thighs blowing out if temperature was wrong or removed too early. It was a slow old process that took up a man's work for days - not just spitting components into a barrel!

Trying to get a custom pigment made for palomino, every colour in the spectrum from a dull cream through pink and orange and apricot, only eventually achieving a golden pony. Newsletter deadlines and the photocopier packs up! Christmas orders - all hands to the deck and working till 10 at night!

Any reason why the Shetland and Donkey molds were used so little?

The Shetland, don't remember re-moulding him, mostly because he has ugly nose like an ant eater which has to be trimmed and still a lot of work to spray and finish, but was so small we couldn't have charged enough to justify labour, so kept to Newsletter releases. The Donkey just didn't seem popular then and no tack or rider, only a rope halter. It didn't seem to appeal to our customers (8 - 14 years mostly).

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