Hagen Renaker part 1
Magic in miniatures
Hagen Renaker was founded by husband and wife John and Maxine Renaker in a garage in 1945 in Culver City, CA. Maxine Renaker was the first designer and salesperson and with the help of Maxine’s father, Ole Hagen, the couple built their first factory in Monrovia, CA, in 1946 (hence the name Hagen-Renaker).
The company originally made hand painted dishes and shadow boxes but moved onto figurines in 1947 after John discovered a little clay duck on Maxine’s workbench. She had made it for her brownie girl scout troop but John saw potential in the little animal and included it in the company’s catalog where it proceeded to sell very well. The miniatures line quickly became the company’s bestselling line, and it has continued to be to this day.
Wildlife was the subject of most of the early miniatures (ducks, skunks, turtle, squirrels, etc.) but they also began making other animals like dogs and cats which became hugely popular. To keep the line manageable, older pieces are retired when new pieces are introduced. This process occurs in January and July of each year and the total line is usually around 230 pieces. This retirement process makes certain pieces very sought after by collectors who were unable to get the item when it was still in production.
In 1952 the company introduced the Designers Workshop (DW) line and produced this line up until 1974. The DW line was in production again from 1980 to 1986 when Hagen Renaker bought Freeman McFarlin which it operated for 6 years. The DW pieces are larger in size then the miniatures and were also given names. What made the DW lines so special was the craftsmanship and artistry that went into each piece; some of the animals are so accurately molded and painted that they look as if they could just come to life and leap off the shelf.
In 1955 Disneyland opened and a Disney character line was introduced. This line is another highly sought after line as it was only in production until 1960. Characters from many Disney movies were created including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Peter Pan, Fantasia, and many others. These pieces were so realistic that Walt Disney is quoted as saying, “they made the finest three-dimensional reproductions of the drawings he ever saw.” In 1982 a second line of Disney figurines was released for Fantasia but this was the final run.
The primary artists that designed for Hagen Renaker include Helen Perrin Farnlund, Maureen Love, Tom Masterson, Nell Bortells, Don Winton, and Martha Armstrong, just to name a few. Helen Perrin Farnlund was brought on in the early days of Hagen Renaker as a designer and she worked with Maxine on the miniatures line. Maureen Love quickly established herself as a designer of realistic animals having designed most of the horses, and much of the realistic wildlife, farm, and domestic animals. Her horses are the most sought after items in the DW line and some sell for thousands of dollars in today’s market. Tom Masterson is known for the realistic Pedigree Dog line and Nell Bortells did many of the Disney pieces and the Little Horribles line. Martha Armstrong-Hand did some Disney pieces, cats, and some human models while Don Winton and Will Climes, who had their own California pottery companies, designed many of the Hagen-Renaker Disney pieces.
In the late 1950’s and 1960’s Hagen Renaker and many other pottery companies were struggling to stay in business due to the influx of many cheap Japanese imports into the market, many of which were unlicensed copies. During this time other lines were introduced including the Little Horribles line, the Black Bisque line, and the Zany Zoo line to keep the company afloat. Due to the limited run of these pieces these too are highly sought after by collectors.
Following this downturn in demand for their product, Hagen Renaker opened a new and more efficient plant in San Dimas California in 1966. Due to this move some pieces made in 1966 are either “Monrovian” or “San Dimas” and this designation is very important to some collectors; however, it is often very hard if not impossible to determine where a specific piece was made during this time.
In 1980 Hagen Renaker bought the Freeman-McFarlin pottery company in San Marcos, CA and operated a plant at that location. While operating the Freeman-McFarlin plant they specialized in making new DW pieces and also made pieces based on Freeman-McFarlin designs. When making a Freeman-McFarlin designed piece Hagen-Renaker would often continue to use the same colors and glazes that were originally used but they were also known to use additional colors and accents. They also continued to use the designs after the San Marcos factory was closed in 1986; therefore, when a Freeman-McFarlin designed figurine is encountered it can be difficult if not impossible to decipher if it is a Hagen Renaker or a Freeman-McFarlin unless the figurine is either marked or signed.
In the 1980’s the stoneware line was introduced and in the 1990’s a specialties line was introduced.
Today Hagen Renaker is still a family run business and they still produce their figurines in San Dimas, CA. John and Maxine Renaker retired from the pottery business in 1996, and their oldest daughter Susan Renaker Nikas now runs the company. Maxine Renaker passed on July 17, 2003 at the age of 89 and John passed on November 6, 2014 at the age of 99.
In April of 2014 the LA Times featured an article on Hagen Renaker. They spoke with Susan Renaker Nikas and she stated that foreign competition and a changing retail scene is hurting the company.