2005 - Volume #29, Issue #4, Page #23[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Pewter Miniatures Bring Back Fond Farm Memories
"I started developing a few small things as gifts for customers of the family swine leasing and contracting business," says Bartges. "We used to do trade shows at pork producer meetings, and I had a display case of things I had done. People started asking if they were for sale."
After more than 20 years, her business is now full time. She has developed a long list of unique farm related pewter miniatures, including clocks and a new line of collector edition Christmas ornaments. She markets her items at major farms shows and from her website. Items range in price from $5 for a small calf to $65 for several livestock show scenes.
A few small swine items have since expanded into sheep, dairy and beef animals. Some include kids and adults working with the animals or in the case of "After the Show", two kids asleep against their cow.
"I always try to have a range of items so even little kids can find something," says Bartges. "I am already on my second generation as people who bought little pewter pendants for $5 are now coming back to my booths with their own families and buying larger items. Kids 15 to 19 really like the 4-H things, and parents tell me it will often be the only thing they bring with them to college."
Her business is not without risk, however, as she makes a substantial upfront investment of time and capital in new items. Bartges credits her own ag background with her success. She points out that miniatures like hers can't be too breed specific, yet the conformation has to be correct.
"If I make a mistake and people don't want them, it's my loss," she says.
As a mostly self-taught artist, Bartges also gives a great deal of credit to other artists who shared their knowledge with her. She also gives a lot of credit to her mold maker.
"He is an artist in his own right," she says. "I do all the original artwork in wax and contract the castings with a foundry on the East Coast. They produce rosin rubber-based molds which provide tremendous detail."
Each mold is good for 500 to 1,000 pieces. As a result, some swine and cattle pieces are sold out, as are a set of hay and grain farming scenes that sold for $199. A secondary market is now developing for these pieces, but at a higher price than the originals brought.
"I have a following of people who have been very good to me and have bought one of everything I have ever made," says Bartges.
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Virginia Bartges, Country Images, 6 Palm Ct., Bloomington, Ill. 61701 (ph 309 827-2452; website: www.countryimages.com).
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