When Savannah Fell enrolled in the 4-H model horse project and earned a merit award for her artistic work at the Dodge County Fair and then at the Wisconsin State Fair, she had no idea it would lead to so many more opportunities.
Through her exhibit, she learned about the Chicago Military Miniature Society of Illinois competition, and she was invited to enter her model horse in the youth category. This prestigious show attracts entries from model horse and military artists from around the world.
'I didn't expect to win anything,' she said, 'but I went because I saw it as an opportunity to talk with other artists and learn techniques from them.'
At the show, the judges were so impressed that they moved her entry out of the youth category to compete in the adult show, where it went on to earn a silver medal.
That success inspired her to concentrate even more on her horse-painting hobby and eventually sell some of her creations.
Now the Maranantha Baptist Academy high school junior is combining her three of favorite things — art, photography and horses — into a hobby that is paying its own way and leaving a little for her college savings.
'Ever since I was little, these things have been my passion,' she says. 'Combining them into customizing model horses and photographing them just came naturally to me. I have been customizing model horses for about six years and collecting for even longer.'
At any given time, she has several projects going on the table in her bedroom in her parents' rural Reeseville home.
Some of the projects are new, unpainted models. Others are recycled models that are scratched, damaged or simply unrealistic in their appearance.
On one she might resculpt a tail to look like a different breed. To do this, she uses a special epoxy that requires about 24 hours to set and dry. On another, she may simply remove the paint, sand it smooth and then start over again painting it to look like the breed of her choice.
'Some model horses that are simply toys may not look realistic,' Fell said. 'They have been painted in a factory, and I give them a deeper color and shading and make repaint the eyes to give them more depth.'
The details on each horse are based on her research into the particular breed.
If her model will be competing in a performance class, they will include tack just like a live horse that would be competing in that class. When Fell chooses a bare model to paint for a particular class, she considers if it is in the right stride to match the class in which it will be entered.
'Many people think of these horses as toys,' she said. 'I see them as a way to express myself with my artwork, using realistic details, 3-D, hair and more.'
Her interest in the models began six years ago when she went to some model horse sessions at the Dodge County 4-H Family Learning Day. She says it is a great way for members of the horse project to learn more about horses by studying the breed details of various models. For youngsters who are unable to have a real live horse of their own, it is a way to learn more about horses.
Savanna and her mother share their interest in horses and riding. They have two horses: Rapunzel, a Haflinger-Mustang cross, and Trixie, an Appaloosa-Paint cross.
At the 4-H horse show, she rides in the Western class, pleasure and horsemanship. This year she plans to expand to the English riding class.
She has sold several model horse creations through eBay and hopes to expand those sales through her new website. See photos of some of her favorites at Savvydesignsblog.wordpress.com.