Few Connoisseur of Malvern designs have such a colorful (dare I say notorious?) history as their cowboy astride a bucking bronco. Although a number of the original studio’s sculptures were, sadly, later reproduced by other companies, none involved quite so much intrigue as this one. There are six known iterations of the Connoisseur piece but only one of those was created by the original Lewis studio.
#1: The Original by Connoisseur of Malvern (1993)
The cowboy’s story begins in 1993 when Richard Sefton, one of the premier artists at the Connoisseur of Malvern studio, created a model of a rodeo cowboy astride a bucking bronco. Because the following year (1994) was the final one under the studio’s original ownership, the piece may not have been made available to collectors. Brielle Galleries, which would have been the premier USA outlet, ceased retail operations in 1996. What its name would have been is not known. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of the 1993 sculpture at this time.
According to Terry Lewis, one of the owners of Connoisseur in the early 1990s, this piece was originally designed, and the prototype(s) physically created, at the Connoisseur of Malvern studio in Ledbury in 1993. According to him, the original model submitted by Mr. Sefton was not exactly what they had in mind and as a result, the horse’s position was modified to what is shown in this post.
#2: Artist’s Proof (Year and Maker Unknown)
In 1995 the studio was sold to David Parker who acquired the rights to the name, logo, and molds which were then moved to a facility in Staunton. The Parker company produced some new designs but appears to have replicated (copied) some sculptures that had already been issued and completed as limited editions by the Lewis studio (see Identifying Original Studio Connoisseur for information about those.) After leaving Staunton in 1997 the molds and equipment were moved to a warehouse in Malvern.
This piece was sold at auction in Dallas in November 2008. It was described as an “English Connoisseur bisque Bronco Buster sculpture” being “marked ‘Connoisseur, A.P., ht 26″, w 23”. (66 cm x 58.5 cm) Eleven photos were provided but not of the marks areas, which would have shown whether or not the original Lewis studio made this piece.
This same auction also included 13 other Connoisseur figures. Of those, only two were original-studio works as per an included backstamp photo; one other’s stamp is questionable and I am still researching it. The other ten are shown via their backstamp photo to not have been made by the original studio. Seven of the those ten figures were new re-issues of editions that the Lewis studio had previously completed. Thus, whether this “artist’s proof” cowboy might be from 1993 cannot be determined without seeing how it is marked. But given the number of new-studio pieces being sold in the same Dallas auction, I rather doubt that it is. The most likely “birthday” for this piece is between 1995 and 2003.
#3a: ‘Bronco Buster’ for President George H.W. Bush (2004)
The assets of the original Connoisseur studio changed hands again, probably in mid-1998. This second purchaser was Kenneth Reasoner, an American businessman based in Florida. He kept the molds and equipment at the Malvern business park warehouse, where production took place in conjunction by an arrangement with the nearby Bronte studio although most pieces only display the Connoisseur name.
Through his Florida retail gallery, Ken Reasoner was acquainted with the Boehm porcelain studio in New Jersey which itself was sold in March 2003 to the Dallas-based merchandiser Home Interiors & Gifts. Helen Boehm remained in the loop as a consultant to a new division which was registered in Texas as E.M. Boehm Inc and marketed items under the branding of “Boehm at Home.” An informal relationship between “Connoisseur, Inc” of Florida, the Bronte studio in England, and Home Interiors & Gifts was apparantly established but at no time were any of these companies ever part of, or acquired by, any of the others. They remained entirely separate and legally unrelated corporations, and had no corporate officers in common.
In December 2004 Michael Lohner, CEO of Home Interiors & Gifts, presented a porcelain sculpture titled “Bronco Buster” to former President George H.W. Bush who had celebrated his 80th birthday earlier that year.
The sculpture was kept for a time at Mr. Bush’s office in Houston but later removed to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. The sculpture was on display during 2017 as part of an exhibit called The Legacy of Ranching. My sincere thanks to the George Bush Library for providing this photograph and permission for me to include it in this article.
The marks on the sculpture at the Bush Library show that it was created after 1998, and most probably in 2003 or 2004. The backstamp is one that was used by the Reasoner operation; no other name appears. This piece is not dated or numbered although a handwritten mark says that it is supposedly part of an edition of 10.
Unfortunately the Home Interiors company publicly misrepresented the piece as being a product of the Boehm studio. This official press release dated January 5, 2005 contains factual inaccuracies regarding the sculpture’s brand and design origin:
CARROLLTON, Texas, Jan. 5 /PRNewswire/ — Former President George Bush was presented with an exclusive Boehm(TM) Bucking Bronco sculpture at his private office in Houston, Texas, on December 2. EM Boehm, Inc. (“Boehm”), the world’s premier true porcelain sculpture designer and manufacturer and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Home Interiors & Gifts, in partnership with Points of Light Foundation, a community service advocate, developed the original porcelain statue to honor former President Bush on his 80th birthday.
In addition, principals connected with the Boehm/Home Interiors company also reportedly (and falsely) claimed in television and print interviews during 2005 that the Bush41 piece had been a Boehm product. This misconception led to the Bush Library originally cataloging their piece as a Boehm product and with no credit given to Mr. Sefton as the designer; that error has now been corrected.
The size of the Bush41 Bronco Buster is the same 26″ height as the “artist proof” that was sold at auction in 2008. The apparent color discrepancy between the in situ and advertising photos of the Bush41 piece is a result of lighting in both instances. The actual color of the horse is more of a medium brown than red, but it is not as light as it appears in the presentation picture.
#3b: Bronco Buster(?) for President George W. Bush (2005?)
A web page describing another of Richard Sefton’s works quotes a local newspaper article but does not cite the source nor the date. My efforts to contact the website owner were unsuccessful. The excerpted text reads:
Richard Sefton, of Pickersleigh Grove, Malvern, received a formal invitation to fly to Washington to hand over a sculpture depicting a cowboy on horseback. The piece, entitled Get Off My Buck [sic], was first designed by Mr Sefton while he was working for the former porcelain company Connoisseur of Malvern. The moulds were recently resurrected and a series of 41, entitled Bronco Busters [sic], commissioned. In December, a piece from the series was presented to George Bush senior, who decided that his son should also have one. Mr Sefton said: “The Bushes are a cowboy family, so it’s very appropriate. But when I first did it, I had no idea it would end up in the White House. I’ve got stuff in galleries and museums all over the world, but clearly this is a tremendous boost.” The sculpture for George W Bush was painted by Bronte Porcelain, of Malvern.
A bit puzzling is the claim that the Bush41 piece was part of “a series of 41” despite the fact that the one given to Mr. Bush is stamped as being part of an issue of 10. (An issue of 41 would make more sense; was an additional series of that size produced later?) Also interesting is the mention of the 2005 piece being painted by Bronte. This fits with a known relationship during this period between the American owner of the Connoisseur assets (Reasoner) and the Bronte staff. I should mention here that Terry Lewis denied awareness that Bronte artists were “moonlighting” by working on Connoisseur-branded pieces and also that when he discovered this several years later, that practice was ended.
The lack of a date for this published article is extremely frustrating but if a second piece actually was given to George W. Bush (“Bush43”), it should have ended up in the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. This facility is located in Dallas, on the grounds of Southern Methodist University.
Unfortunately the Bush43 Library has no record of the piece ever being placed into their holdings. This does not necessarily mean that President George W. Bush never received it. Despite State Department policy regarding the retention of gifts presented to a sitting President, a POTUS does have the option to purchase any item at market value when he or she leaves office. If President Bush (43) decided to purchase the sculpture for his own home, it would never have been available for later inclusion in his Library/Museum.
The only other way to discover whether one of these was indeed given to President George W. Bush is to examine his Daily Diary from 2005, which has not yet been made available online although several previous Presidents’ Diaries are. The Daily Diary records every part of the president’s day during their term, and so would contain a record of a presentation if it did occur. However, this would not include any photographs or information showing how that sculpture may or may not differ from the one in the Bush41 Library in name, appearance, studio mark, or edition size. I would need to locate that actual Bush43 sculpture (if it exists) in order to determine that.
#4: ‘Get Off My Back’ limited edition reproduction by Home Interiors d/b/a Boehm at Home (2005)
The publicity surrounding the presidential presentation(s) dovetailed with Home Interiors’ launch of two reproductions of it under their Boehm at Home branding. The company had the original molds downsized, not once but twice. Both versions were produced in resin (described in their advertising literature as “cold cast porcelain”) and made in China.
The larger of the two versions was sold as a numbered limited edition of 1160. Released in 2005, it is 18.75″ high and 14.5″ at the widest point (47.6 cm x 36.8 cm) and came with a separate wood base. The cowboy’s chaps have leatherette “ties” and heavy braided string is used for the “bronc rein.” It originally retailed for $279.99
Included with the piece was the photo of the 2004 porcelain piece being presented to President George H.W. Bush along with this insert, again incorrectly saying that it had been “a Boehm sculpture”, i.e., that Boehm had created it.
There was also a Certificate of Authenticity but notice the fancy legal footwork in the first sentence: “an original creation by the master craftsmen of the world famous EM Boehm Inc, Porcelain Studio, created exclusively for the Boehm at Home Collection.” The intention was to give the impression that the Boehm studio in Trenton had designed the piece. However, “E M Boehm Inc” did not exist before 2003. The legal name of the old Trenton studio had been “Edward Marshall Boehm Inc” and neither of those firms created this original design. The 2003 company only arranged to manufacture the downsized resin copies. And of course that version received a new name: “Get Off My Back” rather than “Bronco Buster.” (This is why lawyers get the big bucks, no pun intended.)
Many of these offered for sale nowadays are missing some or all of the inserts that originally came with them. My thanks to Etsy seller Daisy Lane Antiques for providing photos of her piece and all of the original paperwork; it was a great help and most illuminating.
#5: ‘Get Off My Back’ mass produced reproduction by Home Interiors d/b/a Boehm at Home (2005)
The smaller version was un-numbered and produced in an unlimited and unknown quantity….probably for as long as it still sold, or until Boehm at Home folded in 2008, whichever came first. This one is 13″ high and 10.5″ wide (33 cm x 26.5 cm) and the base is black instead of brown. But the paint colors are the same as the larger version, and the fabric/string elements as well.
This version retailed for $119.99 and according to one reseller weighs between 4 and 5 lbs although it’s not known whether that weight includes the separate base.
The 2004-presentation photo/blurb was also included with this piece. Instead of a COA these had a “Certificate of Ownership” which has an entirely different wording/claim than the one that was provided with the numbered version. Rather odd because it makes no claim of “authenticity”.
#6: The Bronze Sculpture
(Updated, August 2020) This iteration of the cowboy is a huge puzzlement and I wish I knew more about it although – based on my research – I have a very strong hunch about what its backstory is. I have only ever seen this one example. It has been offered for sale at auction three times: first in November 2007 when it supposedly sold for $550, but then re-listed by them again in February 2008 with no sale result; perhaps the 2007 high bidder never paid for it. The person who consigned this to the auction house has a connection to the late Kenneth Reasoner. It did not sell in 2008 and was returned to the consignor along with various other lots of Boehm and Connoisseur porcelains that had passed unsold.
For the 2007/2008 auction listings only one photo was provided and no description was given beyond “Bronze sculpture of a cowboy on rearing horse, ht 20″, w 13″. On marble base.” The size is interesting because at 20″ (51 cm) including the base, it is shorter than the 26″ high porcelain version but bigger than the larger of the two resin reproductions. There is absolutely no doubt that this bronze version utilized the Bronco Buster/Get Off My Back mold.
It surfaced again in August 2020 at a USA auction house in Texas, one of about 50 lots of Boehm, Cybis, and mixed original and non-original pieces of Connoisseur consigned by the same person (some having passed unsold in other auctions since 2007.) In this listing the size was cited as 17″ h x 13″ w (a 3-inch discrepancy means that either this or the 2007/2008 lot’s description is wrong) and it is described as “one of a kind, sample model for the porcelain figurine edition.” At least there was more than one photo this time!
There are no ‘retail’ markings visible on the piece, although a very close examination of the zoomed photo appears to show some numbers or letters etched into the bronze base.
There are two possibilities for the origin of this bronze version. If, as the 2020 auctioneer was told to claim, it was the “model for the porcelain figurine”, then the process is a backwards: Normally the original model (maquette) is larger than a porcelain’s production version, not smaller (it is easy to downsize molds, but not so easy to upsize during those pre-3D-printer days.) More importantly, Terry Lewis claims that Mr. Sefton’s original submission wsa redesigned to what is shown here. It would have made no sense for Mr. Sefton himself to create a bronze piece in those circumstances, and Connoisseur did not own a foundry.
It is more likely that Kenneth Reasoner sold the original porcelain mold to Helen Boehm shortly after he acquired the Connoisseur ownership in 1998; however, the fly in the ointment here is that by that time (as far as I know) the Llandow foundry was no longer owned by her. She could have asked them to make this casting as a sample piece, however. It is also possible that Boehm/Home Interior had it made as a test piece for a possible Boehm at Home large-scale offshore production run that was never launched. However, neither of those scenarios explain how it came back into Ken Reasoner’s possession before 2007.
Lacking a date for the bronze version, it seems that the Curious Case of the Connoisseur Cowboy must be finally closed after a dozen-year “run” from 1993 to 2005. Hopefully more credit will now be given to its creators: the original Connoisseur of Malvern studio and designer Richard Sefton.
Images of Connoisseur of Malvern porcelain sculptures herein are provided for informational and educational purposes only, not for reproduction, resale or advertising. All photographs are copyrighted by their owner as indicated via watermark. Photographs with a Connoisseur watermark originally appeared within their copyrighted publications and appear here via the kind permission of Connoisseur of Malvern, Ltd.