Throughout the life of the Hagen-Renaker line, music has played a subtle part in the characters that have appeared from the pottery. Unlike the Disney era, or the Designers Workshop periods, there has been no single period of time or part of the line specifically devoted to musical themes. On a seemingly random basis, various pieces…instruments, animals that appear to play instruments, and animals playing actual instruments….have just found their way into the line. In case you’re wondering, neither John or Maxine Renaker are trained musicians, yet the piano occupies a very prominent position in the front rooms of their homes. Their daughter Susan, however, is a singer and composer for a local Blue Grass Band, performing at fairs around Southern California.
The most probable early link to the musical influence in the H-R line belongs to one of their premier artists and designers of the miniature portion of the line, Helen Farlund.
Helen joined the Renakers in the 1940’s and is still involved with developing figurines today. In the 1960’ s when the pottery moved to its present location in San Dimas, California, work was temporarily “slowed down”, and the designers took up different occupations. Helen became involved in playing and teaching music, and subsequently married a professional musician. One of Helen’s contributions, when the relocated pottery started up again, was a series of whimsical “insects” lovingly called the “Bug Band”, built around a couple of pieces she originally had created in the late 50’s.
The “Bug Band” was comprised of six(6) characters;
- Blue Grasshopper w/ Fiddle, Grasshopper w/Cello
- Beetle w/ Cymbals, Beetle w/ Flute
- Caterpillar w/Clarinet, Frog w/Tuba
- Unfortunately, the Frog w/Tuba is unable to make an appearance at this time. The complete Bug Band was put into production in the Spring of 1981 and the last of the pieces, Grasshopper w/Cello was retired in the Spring of 1987. The widespread acceptance of the “Bug Band” led the Renakers to encourage Helen to introduce more music related pieces into the line. In the Spring of 1982, three(3) pieces were released:
- Piano Bear, Piano Bear Cub, Grand Piano. The Piano was originally white but in 1983 a black piano was also added and subsequently the white version was discontinued somewhere around 1987. The black Grand Piano is in the line today.
In 1982 another “animal” that would play the Piano was introduced, the Piano Frog. The Piano Frog remained in the line until the Fall of 1992 when it was retired.When we were looking at some of our other retired pieces, we noticed that two(2) of Helen’s earlier pieces, the Panda Cubs, can also be made to play the piano. These pieces, shown right with the white version of the Grand Piano were introduced into the line in the Spring of 1961. The Panda Cub Standing was retired from the line in the fall of 1992, while the Panda Cub Paw Up (the one with 3 feet on the ground) was retired in the Spring of 1991.By the Spring of 1993, The Miniature line was devoid of musical playing “critters” and all that was left was the black Grand Piano. In the Spring of 1994, a Polar Bear appeared in the line bearing a striking resemblance to the Piano Bear. Strangely enough he appeared on the Hagen- Renaker price list right above the Piano. He was gone from the line in the Fall of 1995. The once proud musical miniatures, shown below were now officially reduced to the Piano.In the Spring of 1992, Hagen-Renaker introduced into its recently created “Specialties” line, five(5) musically related pieces. Three(3) of these actually formed their own musical Trio; on their own: Bongo Mouse, Concertina Mouse, Singing Mouse. The other two pieces could actually stand on their own although the Cat w/Fiddle was a good piece to accompany the mice. And the not to be denied Dancing Frogs, not musicians, but definitely “musical”. The Dancing Frogs remain in the line today. The others have retired
In the Fall of 1993, the Miniatures gained some new musical companions; the Upright Piano and the Bench w/Kitten. Actually for a short period of time the Bench was available as a separate accessory, however due to very limited demand, it was dropped from the line.
In the Fall of 1995 a new complete set of musical “characters” complete with instruments were introduced into the Specialties line. In this instance there can be no mistaking whose influence brought them into being as the name given to the set gives away their Bluegrass heritage; FROGGIE MOUNTAIN BREAKDOWN
In the Fall of 1997, the earlier frog quintet was joined by a another amphibian sextet; TOADALLY BRASS
Well we’re now up to the present and I guess that will have to conclude our trip into the musical side of the Hagen- Renaker line. Hope you enjoyed the visit. If you have any questions regarding these or other aspects of the line contact George Benton at https://www.margaretshouse.com/