My 2011 Visit to the Stone Horses Factory

Years ago, when I first set up this Blog, I wanted to make a post about my trip to the Stone Factory. I had a really great time while I was there, painting with my friend Gretchen Oneail.

This past week, there was some exciting news about the hobby involving Stone Horses. Invariably, that got me thinking about that 2011 visit to Shipshewana, Indiana. (Now, somehow, well over a decade ago.)

Better late than never, if nothing else than for the opportunity to share these adorable photos of Gretchen Oneail. I’m certain that Gretchen would be fine with me sharing, as I had told her that I intended to make a Blog post with them. I had been gung ho about the Blog when I first set it up, and I made several posts in 2012, but after the rough year I had in 2013-2014, I hadn’t ever really posted much, and by that time hobby traffic was moving rapidly to Facebook and Instagram.

On the first stop by the Stone factory, we decided to take photos of us at the spray booths to document us being there BEFORE the booth was cluttered with spilled paint and half-finished horses. These photos are 100% staged. During the actual factory painting time, we were dressed like dirty trolls, in threadbare paint-stained castoffs. However, to have something that looked slightly professional, should we need it, we took a few normal, “respectable” photos.

Then, in came Gretchen, with less respectable photos.
As we had driven to the Stone factory in her “frog themed” Jeep, Gretchen warned me that it was a “dry” county and if I wanted alcohol for the upcoming week, to stock up before we crossed the county line. We stopped at a convenience store, and I bought one solitary bottle of wine, and she cast a skeptical eye at me. “I am not sure that’s going to be enough,” she cautioned. Pffft, I barely drank at home, I assured her - it would be plenty.

After that first long and incredibly frustrating day (the learning curve for factory paint is steep) we dragged ourselves back to the bed and breakfast nearby. My lone bottle of red wine was quickly drained. We ended up sitting outside under the stars, in the patio chairs, so as to not disturb any other guests sleeping inside. Soon, we were tipsy and laughing so hard - I mean the “laugh so hard your face physically aches afterward” kind of laughing.

I can’t remember everything it was that we found so funny, but I remember part of one conversation. Gretchen was very petite, and I’m extremely large framed and tall, and we were both joking about our very different experiences.

Gretchen was telling me about how she would play a game with friends, where she would try to hide in implausibly small spaces, and she was listing all the ridiculous places she had folded herself into. I can’t remember specifics, at this point, and unfortunately Gretchen isn’t here for me to ask, but there were absurd spots like “inside a department store laundry hamper” or “underneath the hotel bathroom sink”. There was no real point to this exercise, which made it even more hilarious. It was just something that she liked to do.

(This photo was sent to me later, in 2012, because she knew how much I found this habit amusing.)

Another story she told me was how on a previous visit to the Stone factory, she woke up in the room of the bed and breakfast, early one morning, to the sensation of a living, breathing frog leaping onto her body. (Possibly, even, onto her face?) This is the sort of thing that would send many girls shrieking in terror out of the room. Not only did this scenario seem incredibly implausible (I lived in two different midwestern farm houses, and I can assure you, we never had frogs appear inside our domiciles, much less in our actual beds) but in this case, the frog had the good fortune, or misfortune, as we will never truly know the opinions of the frog, to have landed onto the body of a girl who was absolutely OBSESSED with frogs.

Instead of being alarmed, Gretchen was delighted, and took it as a sign - this was her new pet! She took him home, to live in an aquarium in her studio, where he was still alive, many years later.

(This photo was taken at a shop in town that featured a large frog statue, with a tiny frog butt, that Gretchen pretended to grab for the pic.)

After a lovely and rather hungover breakfast at the place we were staying, we somehow managed to get to the factory relatively early (despite obliterating almost the entire supply of wine on the first night) and powered through long shifts for the next several days.

Painting at the Stone factory was incredibly difficult due to the type of paint that is used on original finish plastics. I was a very seasoned airbrush artist at the time, with over a decade of acrylic airbrush experience, but I found the learning curve on working with factory paints difficult to cope with.

The paint dries faster when it hits plastic than on resins, and if it’s not thinned just right or applied in the proper way, it can make a raised, sort of “gritty” appearance that is similar to how primer reacts when I’m spraying it on a hot day in Phoenix - the paint particles drying before they hit the model horse. You can paint heavier, or faster, to combat this, but you must move the airbrush more quickly. Very stressful, as not only does the paint go on heavier this way which makes mistakes more noticeable, but as you move the airbrush faster, you are more prone to flub your work.

My first few days were so discouraging, but Gretchen kept telling me it would get better, and gave me all kinds of tips on how to help.

I warmed up with some Decorator paint jobs at first, while I tried to get the hang of the new paint. Slowly but surely, things did improve, and ultimately I did paint a lovely little herd of horses that week.
Gretchen’s energy was a thing to behold, as even after we had put in long hours in the factory, she was still ready to go explore and show me the local sights. She took me to see the local small carousel. We walked around town, explored shops, and I saw the auction house that would sometimes have big horse sales.
I took many photos of Shipshewana's country-themed carousel, which included a Draft horse, dog, and even a sheep!
The town was extremely interesting, as it was still very much “horse powered” and while the Amish are most famous for going old school, there were other random horses, like one fellow cruising around town on what appeared to be a Paso Fino. Horses would be tied up at various businesses.
The week went by lightning quick, and by the end, I had logged in somewhere over 60 hours. It didn’t feel like work, however, with Gretchen there.
Above, a few results of my time at the factory. If Gretchen was still here, I would have loved to add her week's photos to this post as well.

Gretchen gifted me a couple of her horse necklace charms during the visit. She loved to make jewelry, and would sculpt, cast and paint these tiny horse pendants to sell at shows. One was of my Palomino mare, Brandy. I strung the charms with glass beads with leaves and flowers when I got home. I still have these necklaces today, and they remind me of her every time I see them.

Some time later, I went out to the factory again to paint, but by then Gretchen had been experiencing unusual chronic health issues, which were proving very difficult to diagnose. She no longer had the ability to put in the drive from Ohio, plus the long hours at the paint booth. I recall that on my solo visit to the Stone factory, there was absolutely nothing amiss. Everyone was polite. My work went perfectly fine, thanks to hours that Gretchen had spent training me. Without Gretchen there, however, I found myself feeling lonely and homesick.
(Above, photos from a later Stone factory visit.)

I’d shut down the factory late at night, and remember the visit before, as Gretchen and I worked mostly after hours, to have less impact on the full-time staff. Everyone would leave and she would crank up the music, we’d drink coffee, and settle in for painting into the wee hours. There were jokes, and snack breaks for awful junk food. It felt like our own little painting “party”. Without her there, it was just me and my headphones, after hours. Alone at an empty row of paint booths.

After I flew back home, Gretchen and I talked on the phone and she asked if I’d go back, and I told her that without her there, it simply felt like “work”.

I’m happy that I got to have that experience at the factory all those years ago. I’m so glad I had such a good instructor to learn the ropes from. I have nothing but joyous memories of that experience at the Stone factory with my friend Gretchen, and I hope the new owners get to share in merry adventures of their own.

"I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days, before you actually left them."
- Andy Bernard, "The Office"


  1. This is a beautiful post. I'm glad you finally wrote it <3

  2. What a lovely way to honor a friend. Thanks for the history -- this makes it much more real!


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